The Hill's Morning Report - Week two of public impeachment testimony




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. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the up-early co-creators. Find us @asimendinger and @alweaver22 on Twitter and CLICK HERE to subscribe!

House Democrats privately believe that the impeachment inquiry could wind up with two or three articles of alleged offenses leveled against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' MORE. But making a persuasive case grave enough to argue for the removal of a president less than a year before an election requires credible eyewitnesses willing to allege that Trump knowingly violated his oath of office.


That’s why lawmakers in both parties eye Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandParnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Five takeaways from Parnas's Maddow interview Giuliani pushes to join Trump impeachment defense team: report MORE, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union who talked to Trump half a dozen times during a key period in the summer and early fall, as a potential tipping point when he testifies publicly on Wednesday. 


Sondland, 62, is a businessman, major Trump donor and inexperienced diplomat who testified last month to House impeachment investigators. He subsequently revised his deposition to concede he told a top Ukrainian official that U.S. military aid would likely not be delivered until Ukraine agreed to make a “public anti-corruption statement” that witnesses said Trump imagined could politically harm former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Trump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina MORE (CNBC).


Two other senior officials — former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonGOP senator 'open' to impeachment witnesses 'within the scope' of articles Trump Jr.: If 'weaker' Republicans only call for certain witnesses, 'they don't deserve to be in office' House Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't MORE and acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyHouse Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't Graham: Abuse of power 'poorly defined' in articles of impeachment Democrats file brief against Trump, 'the Framers' worst nightmare' MORE — who have direct knowledge of Trump’s actions and instructions tied to nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine and Trump’s desire to investigate Biden, his political rival, could implicate or defend the president. But sworn testimony from either or both men is up in the air during what has become a subpoena-laden, fast-moving House process.


The New York Times: Bolton and Trump met privately over withheld military aid.


It’s not too soon for senators to prepare to receive one or more articles of impeachment from the House. Alexander Bolton reports that Senate Republicans have assessed the first week of public testimony and decided it did no damage to Trump or the party.  But that doesn’t mean there’s a consensus among rank-and-file GOP senators about how best to proceed as jurors, if or when the House turns the matter over to the upper chamber, Jordain Carney finds


On Saturday, the House Intelligence Committee heard closed-door testimony from Office of Management and Budget career official Mark Sandy, who described the freeze on aid to Ukraine as unusual. The committee also released transcripts from earlier testimony provided by Tim Morrison, a former top National Security Council aide, and Jennifer Williams, a career foreign service officer and adviser to Vice President Pence. Williams was among the officials who listened to Trump’s phone conversation on July 25 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. She told lawmakers Trump’s remarks were “unusual and inappropriate,” according to a transcript released on Saturday.


On Sunday afternoon, Trump attacked Williams on Twitter, calling her a “Never Trumper” while also saying he did not know her (The Hill).


This week’s packed public schedule of testimony (Reuters): 


> Tuesday morning: NSC Director for European Affairs Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanPresident Trump's intelligence community security blanket Whistleblower's lawyer questions GOP senator's whistleblower protection caucus membership White House limits number of officials allowed to listen to Trump calls with foreign leaders: report MORE and Williams.


> Tuesday afternoon: Ambassador Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerGOP chairmen seek interview with Obama officials as part of Biden-Ukraine probe Push to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war Senate confirms Brouillette to replace Perry as Energy secretary MORE, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, and Morrison.


> Wednesday morning: Sondland.


> Wednesday afternoon: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale.


> Thursday morning: Former NSC Senior Director for European and Eurasian Affairs Fiona Hill.


The Hill: Sondland is the biggest wild card thus far in the impeachment drama.  


The Hill: Lawmakers over the weekend continued to spar over the upcoming Sondland testimony.


The Hill: Sunday shows — Spotlight shifts to Sondland. 


The Hill: Trump leans on social media during the impeachment inquiry.





POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Less than three months away from first-in-the-nation caucuses, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina Sanders says gender 'still an obstacle' for female politicians Sanders v. Warren is just for insiders MORE is the big surprise on the leaderboard in Iowa. He’s poised to be targeted by Democratic rivals as well as Republicans who are spending big money to try to shape next year’s presidential race.


Over the weekend, Buttigieg “rocketed to the top” of the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll (Des Moines Register), prompting a swirl of fascination, fresh punditry and analysis of the 2020 Democratic electorate.


Meanwhile, former Massachusetts’ Gov. Deval PatrickDeval PatrickButtigieg to attend MLK Day event in South Carolina after facing criticism Deval Patrick knocks lack of diversity in Democratic debate Democratic Party boss pushes back on criticism: Debate rules 'very transparent,' 'very inclusive' MORE’s eleventh-hour decision to jump into the Democratic presidential primary — and a looming entrance from billionaire Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergTrump slams Bloomberg over comments on man who shot Texas gunman Bloomberg: 'My story might have turned out very differently if I had been black' Sanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements MORE — rankles progressives and rank-and-file Democrats, who say that any such latecomers highlight a major disconnect between party elites and the political grassroots (The Hill).


The Hill: Bloomberg apologizes for “stop and frisk” ahead of potential 2020 bid.


Charles M. Blow: Bloomberg’s bogus, belated mea culpa.


New York Daily News Editorial Board: Mike wakes up: Bloomberg is right to acknowledge his big stop-and-frisk mistake, as we did.


The Washington Post: Democrats fear a long primary slog could drag into summer.


In New Hampshire, Patrick's entrance into the race threatens to peel off voter support from Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Trump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Trump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina MORE (I-Vt.), pitting three New England candidates against one another. Who might benefit in that new scenario? Biden (The Hill).


The Hill: Biden says he won’t legalize marijuana as president because it could be a “gateway drug.”


The Associated Press: Weary Democratic voters balk at new presidential candidates.


> In the Trump-Pence reelection effort, a fringe group of far-right activists have been disrupting conservative and pro-Trump events, drawing rebukes from mainstream Republicans who want to distance the party from white nationalists and alt-right racists, Jonathan Easley reports. The man in the news: 21-year-old conservative broadcaster Nicholas Fuentes (National Review).


The Washington Post: A Denver radio host who has been critical of Trump says he was fired mid-show.


> Louisiana governor’s race: Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards won a second term on Saturday against Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, who tried to make the most of his backing from Trump. Edwards, who won narrowly in an increasingly red state, in part by avoiding criticism of Trump, is a rare Democratic governor in the South (The Hill). 


The Washington Post: Back-to-back losses in key governors’ races send additional warning to Trump and GOP ahead of 2020.


The Washington Post Magazine: 32 succinct perspectives on the rewards and repercussions of the Democratic Party’s move to the left.


The New York Times: Trump bet big this election year in Louisiana and Kentucky. Here’s why he lost.





MORE IN CONGRESS: Beyond impeachment hearings and Senate confirmations, Congress has other pressing issues ahead, including keeping the government funded beyond a shutdown deadline of Dec. 20. Niv Elis reports that rank-and-file members of both parties are skeptical they’ll make that deadline. Yet another stopgap measure that extends into February has emerged in conversations on Capitol Hill.  


> Is impeachment an impediment to the annual defense policy bill or is the stumbling block over a wall being built at the U.S.-Mexico border? That blame game is alive and unresolved among senators (The Hill).


> Advocates believe a consumer-focused anti-robo call measure supported by both parties may move to the president’s desk this year. Legislative details have yet to be released, but lawmakers say the conference bill will require phone companies to verify that phone numbers are real and to block calls for free. It will also give government agencies more authority to go after scammers (The Associated Press). 




WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: Here are some other executive branch headlines that will get attention this week:


Fitness and health: What medical tests did Trump’s doctors perform on a Saturday afternoon at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and why? Any patient visiting a top medical facility for routine medical tests would be asked to fast after midnight and show up in the morning. But Trump’s late-afternoon “quick exam and labs” were unscheduled. He was seen by journalists who traveled with the presidential motorcade departing the hospital with his shirt collar unbuttoned and his tie off. His last known medical workup was in February.


The White House said the president, 73, is healthy and energetic and used his “down day” to begin elements of his annual routine physical examination. No medical professionals briefed the news media immediately afterward, as has been customary following previous health exams for Trump as well as his predecessors (CNN).


Karen Tumulty: We need a second opinion on the president’s health.





Cinema, arts and an honor: The president will award the National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight — a conservative supporter who has called Trump the “greatest president since Abraham Lincoln” — on Thursday at the White House. The medal honors Voight’s "exceptional capacity as an actor to portray deeply complex characters," according to a statement (The Hill).


Military justice: Trump’s announcement on Friday that he pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes and reversed the demotion of a Navy SEAL is stirring vigorous debate within the Pentagon and outside the Defense Department (The Atlantic and The New York Times).


White House and alt-right: Trump senior adviser for immigration policy Stephen MillerStephen MillerConservatives slam Warren's call to put transgender women in women's prisons Immigrants are an economic boon to America Giuliani's unofficial role allowed him to avoid White House disclosure rules: report MORE is facing calls from dozens of Democrats to resign after newly released emails showed he circulated material linked to white nationalism to editors at Breitbart News before he joined the West Wing staff. The president is standing behind his influential aide (The Hill). The Southern Poverty Law Center’s four-part series is HERE. 


Trump wants Japan to pay more for stationing costs: The administration in July asked Japan to quadruple annual payments for U.S. forces stationed there to around $8 billion, Foreign Policy magazine reported. A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters the report was incorrect and no U.S.-Japan negotiations on a new agreement have taken place. … Meanwhile, U.S. and South Korean officials today resumed negotiations to try to close a $4 billion gap in cost-sharing proposals. South Koreans publicly object to U.S. demands as “highway robbery” (Reuters).


Government action to crack down on vaping through new regulations has been delayed as the president reconsiders the potential impact on jobs, The Los Angeles Times reports. Trump and the Food and Drug Administration are under pressure from the industry and vaping proponents as well as small shops that specialize in e-cigarette products.

The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: and We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!


Impeachment is not a TV show, by Jennifer Weiner, opinion contributor, The New York Times.


Democrats must deliver on election issues beyond impeachment, by Douglas E. Schoen, opinion contributor, The Hill.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features political journalist Paul Steinhauser, who reports on the status of the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire; Open Markets Institute fellow Matt Stoller, on the 2020 candidates and policies aimed at the middle class; and College Pulse CEO Terren Klein, who describes the organization’s new poll numbers on the 2020 race. Coverage starts at 9 a.m. ET at or on YouTube at 10 a.m. at Rising on YouTube.


The House meets at noon.


The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and resumes consideration of the nomination of Robert Luck to be a judge for the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.


The president will meet with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoCountries reach agreement in Berlin on Libya cease-fire push, arms embargo Trump Jr.: If 'weaker' Republicans only call for certain witnesses, 'they don't deserve to be in office' House Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't MORE at 4:15 p.m.


Pompeo meets with Republic of Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides at the State Department at 1 p.m. He will meet with Trump in the afternoon.


The Hill hosts a Minneapolis newsmaker event from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. CT, titledBuilding the Dream,” featuring Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D), state Rep. Kurt Daudt (R), the minority leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives, and Minneapolis City Council's Lisa Bender to discuss local and national housing inequities and the state and local plans. Information is HERE.


Hong Kong: Police in Hong Kong on Monday used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to trap protesters who began demonstrating on the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Sunday. The demonstrators initially thought they had barricaded themselves in but then began to search for an escape route (The Hill). The Trump administration condemned “unjustified use of force” and called on Beijing to protect Hong Kong’s freedom (Reuters).  


Boeing: On Saturday, Boeing sought to ease tensions with regulators over the return to service of its 737 Max airplane, saying it is up to the Federal Aviation Administration and its global counterparts to approve changes to the jet in the wake of two deadly crashes. Boeing prompted federal consternation when it said it expected the FAA to certify the 737 Max in mid-December, information that sent its stock soaring. U.S. officials privately said last week that Boeing’s timetable was aggressive — if not unrealistic — and was not cleared in advance by regulators (Reuters). United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines announced on Friday they will continue to ground their fleets of 737 Max planes until early March, even if the plane is cleared by regulators to return to service earlier (USA Today). In the interest of safety, the FAA is considering becoming involved in the design of new planes from the outset, Administrator Stephen Dickson says during an interview (The Wall Street Journal).


Venice: The spellbinding, magical place that Lord Byron once described as “a fairy city of the heart” has suffered three historically high and devastating episodes of flooding in the last week, with damages estimated by Venice’s mayor at hundreds of millions of Euros. Italian officials declared a state of emergency for the area. Officials say Venice is sinking into the mud and facing rising sea levels due to climate change. Floods also hit other parts of Italy, including Pisa and Florence (The Associated Press). 





And finally … This is the end for legions of fans of Bei Bei, the giant panda at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Visitors have been saying good-bye for weeks to the star attraction that was born at the zoo. He’s heading on Tuesday to China as part of a diplomatic agreement that requires the happy-go-lucky, personable panda to live there after age 4 as part of a breeding program.


The National Zoo has hosted “farewell” events, encouraging admirers and young panda visitors to write postcards to Bei Bei, deposited in a mailbox next to his outdoor habitat. The postcards will make the 16-hour flight with Bei Bei to China, along with Laurie Thompson, the assistant curator of giant pandas and the zoo’s longest-serving giant panda keeper (The Washington Post).


“I think there’s going to be some tears,” Thompson said. “To leave him in a new place, although I know he’ll be getting great care, it’s just sad.”