The Hill's Morning Report — Senators expected to acquit Trump; witness push falls short

The Hill's Morning Report — Senators expected to acquit Trump; witness push falls short
© Getty Images

Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. TGIF! 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 daily co-creators, so find us @asimendinger and @alweaver22 on Twitter and recommend the Morning Report to your friends. CLICK HERE to subscribe!

Senators today are expected to move toward acquitting President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE on two charges without questioning witnesses as the third impeachment trial in American history lumbers toward a rancorous conclusion.  

Republicans feel confident they have the votes to acquit Trump by this weekend after Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMcConnell chokes up saying goodbye to 'friend' Lamar Alexander in floor speech Mark Kelly sworn in to Senate seat Longtime GOP lawmaker urges Senate to restore itself in farewell speech MORE (R-Tenn.), who is retiring, announced Thursday night that he opposes any addition of witnesses and believes voters should render judgment about Trump’s actions with Ukraine, which he called “inappropriate” but not impeachable.

At the same time, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him GOP blocks effort to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks MORE (R-Maine), who is running for reelection, said Thursday night that she wants witnesses, but with 51 votes required to back her position, it appeared likely that such motions will fail. 

The most likely GOP senators who could join Collins and Democrats to support calling trial witnesses, including former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonDefense policy bill would create new cyber czar position Pressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday MORE, are Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return MORE (R-Alaska) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him WaPo reporter says GOP has less incentive to go big on COVID-19 relief COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks MORE (R-Utah). But four Republicans, not three, would be necessary (The Hill).

Bolton, whose unpublished memoir and first-person knowledge of the president’s actions featured prominently during Trump’s trial, appeared before a group in Texas on Thursday and voiced support for the current and former diplomatic officials who testified during the House inquiry into the president’s behavior with Ukraine. 

All of them acted in the best interest of the country as they saw it and consistent to what they thought our policies were,” Bolton said during the question-and-answer period following his speech (KXAN.com). “The idea that somehow testifying to what you think is true is destructive to the system of government we have — I think, is very nearly the reverse — the exact reverse of the truth,” he said.

Facing a 50-50 deadlock, Democrats hold out a sliver of hope that Chief Justice John Roberts will provide the elusive 51st vote, but the idea is widely perceived as unlikely. Roberts has modeled his de minimis involvement in the Senate chamber on his predecessor, the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who once described his role in 1999 during the impeachment trial of former President Clinton: “I did nothing in particular, and did it very well,” he said (CNN).

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats tried to include language in the rules resolution to allow Roberts to rule on motions for new witnesses or documents. However, the amendment was voted down in a party line vote.

The president has maintained throughout that he is the victim of a partisan Democratic effort to overturn the 2016 election and undercut his bid for a second term. Following a Thursday night rally before a rollicking crowd in Iowa, Trump returned to Twitter with a prediction:

“Americans across the political spectrum are disgusted by the Washington Democrats’ Partisan Hoaxes, Witch Hunts, & Con Jobs. Registered Democrats and Independents are leaving the Democrat Party in droves, & we are welcoming these voters to the Republican Party w/ wide open arms!”

The Hill: Three ways the end of the impeachment trial could play out. 

The Hill: Impeachment closing arguments to begin today.

Mark Leibovich: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a man alone. 

The Hill: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden backs 0B compromise coronavirus stimulus bill US records over 14 million coronavirus cases On The Money: COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Slowing job growth raises fears of double-dip recession | Biden officially announces Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE (D-Calif.) says Trump lawyers have “disgraced” themselves, suggests disbarment.

The Hill: Roberts refused to read questions about the whistleblower from Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: Lawmakers release compromise defense bill in defiance of Trump veto threat | Senate voting next week on blocking UAE arms sale | Report faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' in military plane crashes Senate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return MORE (R-Ky.). "The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” Roberts told senators. Paul later repeated his questions on Twitter.

The Hill: Retired Harvard law professor Alan DershowitzAlan Morton DershowitzSunday shows preview: Biden transition, COVID-19 spike in spotlight The Hill's 12:30 Report: War over the Supreme Court Dershowitz suing CNN for 0 million in defamation suit MORE, a member of Trump’s defense team, took to the Senate floor this week to offer a sweeping argument that anything the president does to win reelection is in the public interest and cannot be impeachable. Then he complained he was misunderstood.

Reuters: In Kyiv today, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo knocks Turkey in NATO speech: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates US to temporarily withdraw some embassy personnel in Baghdad: report MORE pledged U.S. support for Ukraine.




CAMPAIGNS & POLITICS: With four days to go before the Iowa caucuses, one emerging Democratic worry — Democrats are worried about everything — centers on the difference between swooning and strategizing, and between heart and head. 

The latest AP-NORC poll highlighted that emotional distinction: Republicans are more excited about the 2020 contest than are Democrats, who are nervous wrecks (The Associated Press).

As The Hill’s Reid Wilson points out from the Hawkeye State, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE is in striking distance of leading the Democratic candidates in Iowa, but fair or unfair, analysts can’t miss the hand-wringing among caucus-goers about Biden’s perceived baggage and the stakes. Will his voters actually turn out? (Find Wilson’s reporting at TheHill.com later this morning).

Some Iowa Democrats describe a kind of enthusiasm gap, worried that Trump and Republicans will hobble Biden, 77, if he’s the nominee. They worry he faces relentless negative ads featuring Burisma and Ukraine, which could seed doubts and suppress turnout for him, which would in turn help Trump.

“Whether there’s anything to it or not, there’s going to be a lack of trust and doubt that we could end up like we did four years ago,” Iowa Democrat Emma Thompson, 63, told a reporter. She’s considering caucusing for Biden, but is also considering Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSchwarzenegger says he would 'absolutely' help Biden administration Disney chair says he would consider job in Biden administration if asked Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (D-Mass.), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegJuan Williams: Clyburn is my choice as politician of the year 'Biff is president': Michael J. Fox says Trump has played on 'every worst instinct in mankind' Buttigieg: Denying Biden intelligence briefings is about protecting Trump's 'ego' MORE and entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangGroups seek to get Black vote out for Democrats in Georgia runoffs Media and Hollywood should stop their marching-to-Georgia talk Andrew Yang: Democrats need to adopt message that government is 'working for them' MORE (The Associated Press).

At a Biden campaign event in Waukee, Iowa, on Thursday, Christie Vilsack, wife of the state’s former Gov. Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE, urged Iowans to commit to the political version of eating their peas: put on their “practical Iowa hats” for Biden, she encouraged, arguing the former vice president can “appeal” to the broadest swath of the electorate, NBC News reported. Tom Vilsack assured the audience after Biden spoke for 18 minutes that the former vice president can beat Trump in November, and that character matters (National Review).

The Associated Press: Two moderates, Biden and Buttigieg, diverge on strategies to win as Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFormer Sanders press secretary: 'Principal concern' of Biden appointments should be policy DeVos knocks free college push as 'socialist takeover of higher education' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Giuliani denies discussing preemptive pardon with Trump MORE (I-Vt.) appears to gain strength in Iowa.

NBC News: Sanders, Biden are neck-and-neck in new national poll.

> Buttigieg’s pitch: After months of largely avoiding direct attacks on competitors, Buttigieg sharpened his elbows on Thursday while barnstorming the Hawkeye State, hitting Biden and Sanders as he looked for a last minute boost in the polls.

At four events across Iowa, Buttigieg lobbed barbs at the two Democratic frontrunners, hitting the former vice president for looking into the past for the next president and Sanders for telling voters that it’s his way or the highway.

"The less 2020 looks like 2016, the better,” Buttigieg told voters at an evening event in Ankeny. “I've seen Vice President Biden making the case that we cannot afford to take a risk on a new person right now. I would argue that at a time like this, what we can't afford to take the risk on is falling back on the familiar because history has shown us, we've got to look to the future in order to win." 

"Senator Sanders ... is nevertheless offering an approach that tells folks who are not sure about going all the way to one side that they don't fit,” Buttigieg continued. “I think this is a moment to build on the majority that now exists, even more than what President Obama had to work with 10 years ago." 

The comments came after weeks of build-up, which included veiled comments aimed at the field in emails to supporters and during a town hall on Sunday with Fox News. Complicating the timing was the ongoing impeachment push, which has consumed the media attention in recent weeks. 

“This is the time to really hammer home closing arguments,” a Buttigieg source said.  

Complicating matters for Buttigieg is the primary calendar post-Iowa. According to the latest RealClearPolitics polling average in New Hampshire, Buttigieg sits nearly 12 points behind Sanders, and remains mired in the single digits in both Nevada and South Carolina as his inability to attract minority supporters continues to plague him. Looking ahead to Super Tuesday, former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergBiden's great challenge: Build an economy for long-term prosperity and security The secret weapon in Biden's fight against climate change Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' MORE is waiting for the field and is expected to further jam up the centrist lane.  

The bottom line: Unlike the other frontrunners, Iowa is a must-win for Buttigieg. At the very least, he needs to topple Biden to give his campaign more juice moving forward.  

The Hill: Democrats make closing arguments to Iowa voters. 

The New York Times: “I’m a Democrat”: Biden accuses Sanders of not being a party member. 

Jonathan Allen: With Iowa on the line, Biden bets on what he doesn't believe.

The Associated Press: Voters’ 2nd choices could be decisive in close Iowa caucuses.



> Trump rallies Iowa voters: The president took his campaign roadshow to Des Moines on Thursday night, where he took the opportunity to pan the 2020 Democratic field. 

As Morgan Chalfant writes, Trump mocked Biden’s memory, referring to his rival in his remarks while theatrically mixing up the names of states. The president also referred to Warren by his oft-used nickname, “Pocahontas,” and mocked the pronunciation of Buttigieg’s name.

“How about But-Edge-Edge?” Trump told the crowd. “They call him Mayor Pete. You know why? Nobody can pronounce his name.”

Niall Stanage: The Memo: Trump tries to steal Democrats' thunder in Iowa.


WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: The State Department Thursday night urged Americans not to travel to China, a move that elevated the government’s travel advisory to the highest level after the World Health Organization declared the viral outbreak an international public health emergency earlier in the day (The Hill).

On Thursday night, Trump told Fox News during an interview that the administration will soon add to its responses to the virus: "We’re dealing very closely with China. We’ll be making certain announcements over the next 24 hours and 48 hours. We are in great shape. China is not in great shape."  

The administration this week assembled a federal task force headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to make policy recommendations about the U.S. response and to coordinate communications. 

WHO, which is based in Geneva, designated the new coronavirus in China an emergency at the same time that a sixth case of infection was confirmed in the United States. Trump early on Thursday assured the public that the United States is “working very closely” with Beijing, adding “we think we have it very well under control.” 

The president said there was “very little problem in this country,” referring to “five” confirmed patients recovering from the virus in the United States, apparently unaware as he visited Michigan that a sixth U.S. case was confirmed in Illinois by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new patient, diagnosed in Chicago, contracted the virus from his spouse, who had traveled to China (The Hill).

WHO’s decision served notice to all United Nations member states that the world’s top health advisory body believes the situation is grave. The designation has no force of law (The New York Times).

In China, 213 people have died from pneumonia and complications from respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. More than 9,600 cases have been confirmed worldwide, according to the latest data today (The Associated Press). Researchers and governments are paying close attention to apparent cases of asymptomatic carriers of the virus who transmitted it to others. 

The United States is expected to evacuate a second wave of personnel and U.S. citizens from China, following the more than 200 people flown out of the country this week to California. White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayWomen set to take key roles in Biden administration Lara Trump mulling 2022 Senate run in North Carolina: report Press: Where is Jim Baker when we need him? MORE declined to comment on reports charter flights will depart China for the United States on Monday.

European nations also evacuated hundreds of their citizens from China as a precaution, while Russia temporarily shut its 2,600-mile border with its gigantic neighbor. A commercial cruise ship languished at a dock in Italy on Thursday, barred from releasing passengers and crew until a 54-year-old woman on board with flu-like symptoms was tested for the virus (The Associated Press).  

The Hill’s Niv Elis reports how the global efforts to halt an epidemic present economic risks for China and its trading partners, including major U.S. companies such as Starbucks, McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza. Quarantines, canceled commercial flights and declining business activity will make it tougher for China to increase its purchases of U.S. goods and services, as outlined in the “Phase One” trade deal signed this month at the White House. Trump is boasting on the campaign trail that increased trade with China is a promise to voters he fulfilled during his first term after a protracted tariff war.

Reuters: Economists fear the impact could be bigger than the epidemic in 2002 and 2003 caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed about 800 people and cost the global economy an estimated $33 billion. China now accounts for a larger share of the world economy and financial markets have been volatile since news of the virus emerged earlier this month. 

Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossConservative justices seem prepared to let Trump proceed with immigrant census plan for now Supreme Court to hear arguments on Trump administration's attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from census Central Asia is changing: the Biden administration should pay close attention MORE said Thursday during a Fox Business interview that the United States may benefit from China’s troubles. “I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease,” Ross said on Thursday before appearing to do just that. “I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America. Some to the U.S., probably some to Mexico as well” (The Hill). 

Ross cited previous disease outbreaks in China, suggesting that a prevalence of diseases there would become a factor in businesses leaving the country and relocating to North America.

“You had SARS, you have the African swine virus there, now you have this,” he added (The New York Times).

Paul Krugman: No, Team Trump. The coronavirus isn’t good for America.

Ian Johnson: The coronavirus and the panic epidemic.

The Associated Press: Wearing masks…Do they help?



> Medicaid: The administration will allow states to cap spending on Medicaid for many poor adults, officials said on Thursday, signaling a conservative shift in policy to grant states the option of reducing health coverage for millions of beneficiaries under provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said states that prefer an approach known as block grants would have flexibility (The New York Times). Under provisions of ObamaCare, 37 states and Washington, D.C., to date expanded Medicaid. Fourteen states refused: Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota and Wyoming (Kaiser Family Foundation). 

> U.S. intelligence-sharing: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, traveling in the United Kingdom on Thursday, backed continued U.S. intelligence-sharing with Great Britain, despite its decision to use Chinese communications equipment made by Huawei (Reuters). In Washington, national security adviser Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE said the administration has not reached a decision on intel-sharing (Reuters). 

> Middle East: A long-awaited U.S. proposal to achieve peace in the Middle East, released on Tuesday to praise from Israel and condemnation from Palestinians, sparked debate about Palestinians’ shrinking options, unless there is significant political movement in the United States or Israel (The Hill).

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


Why pro-Trump 'rubes' will win again in 2020, by Ed Rollins, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2S4szgF 

Tech loses a prophet just when it needs one, by Kara Swisher, technology reporter and contributing opinion writer, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/2S1XxWV


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features Charles Chamberlain, chair of Democracy for America, on how to unify the Democratic Party; Chris Lehman, editor for The New Republic, to preview Iowa; Rose Denis, president of UNITE HERE Local 355; and Daniel Marans, political reporter for HuffPost, on Sanders’s objections to Trump’s consideration of Social Security reductions in a second term. Coverage at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube.

The House meets on Feb. 3 at 1:30 p.m.  

The Senate convenes today at 1 p.m. to continue the impeachment trial. 

The president delivers remarks at a White House Summit on Human Trafficking to mark the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

Economic indicator: The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports at 8:30 a.m. on U.S. consumer spending in December. Why is it important? Because the engine of U.S. economic growth is dependent on consumers, and the trend in 2020 is key.


Brexit: At 11 p.m. in Great Britain, the European Union will shrink from 28 members to 27 as the United Kingdom officially leaves the bloc three and a half years after voting to do so. After meeting with his cabinet in British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Sunderland, he is expected to deliver an address to the nation shortly before its departure and argue that Brexit is not an end of times, but rather a “a moment of real national renewal and change” (The Associated Press).

Sun spots: The gas surface of the sun looks a bit like crinkly golden wrapping paper or a piece of caramel popcorn magnified a gazillion times. A telescope in Hawaii produced its first images of the sun this month, revealing its turbulent surface in what scientists hailed as unprecedented detail. The telescope enlarges features as small as 18 miles across, according to the National Science Foundation, which released the images on Wednesday. Keep in mind, the sun is 93 million miles away from Earth. Take a look! (ABC News).  

New Orleans: Lawyers for about two dozen men alleging sexual abuse against the Archdiocese of New Orleans claim that hundreds of confidential emails show that the New Orleans Saints helped form a list of credibly accused clergy members and their involvement was more hands-on than they previously indicated. The lawyers said Thursday that what the Saints did “goes beyond public relations.” 

“In order to fulfill this role ... the Saints must have known the specific allegations of sexual abuse against a priest ... and made a judgment call about whether those allegations by a particular victim against a named priest were, in its opinion, legitimate enough to warrant being included,” the attorneys wrote. “It cannot now be disputed that the Saints had actual involvement in the creation of the pedophile list” (The Associated Press).

Electric vehicle: After more than a decade off the grid, the Hummer is making a comeback, but not in its former gas-guzzling ways. General Motors (GM) announced Thursday that the Hummer brand will return in September with a 2021 pickup truck model that will include an electric battery. The vehicle, which will be featured in a Super Bowl ad, will officially be unveiled in May. GM last released a line of Hummers in 2009, having sold only 9,000 such vehicles that year (The Associated Press). 



And finally … Major kudos to the winners of this week’s Morning Report Quiz!  

These hoops experts (along with some top-notch Googlers) aced the trivia puzzle about the the late Kobe Bryant’s legendary career: Patrick Kavanagh, Mark Wastl, Margaret Gainer, Rich Davis, Mike Roberts, Jack Barshay and Luther Berg. 

They knew that Bryant, who was originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA draft, was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for longtime center Vlade Divac

Bryant made the change from No. 8 to No. 24 ahead of the 2006-07 season. The Lakers retired both of his numbers (CBS News).

David Thompson scored 73 points for the Denver Nuggets on April 9, 1978. The total is the highest single game total outside of Bryant’s 81 points and multiple outputs by Wilt Chamberlain. 

Lastly, Bryant’s 18 NBA All-Star game appearances were surpassed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with 19 appearances.