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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.15.20

01/15/20 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Today's vote was 228 to 193: "The House voted on Wednesday to send the impeachment articles against President Donald Trump to the Senate, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the seven House Democrats who will serve as the 'managers' in the trial, which is set to start next week."

* I'll have more on this tomorrow: "President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed phase one of a hard-fought trade deal Wednesday, capping a bitter 18-month battle between the world's two largest economies that has roiled markets and slowed economic growth worldwide."

* An important court order: "A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked a Trump administration order that allowed state and local governments to refuse the resettling of refugees, finding the policy likely 'unlawful.'"

* Shake-up in Moscow: "Russia's prime minister and its entire government resigned Wednesday as part of sweeping constitutional changes that could see President Vladimir Putin extend his hold on power."

* Hmm: "The State Department abruptly canceled two classified congressional briefings Wednesday that were supposed to focus on embassy security and the U.S. relationship with Iran, Capitol Hill aides said, infuriating lawmakers and staffers seeking answers on the fallout from President Donald Trump's decision to kill a senior Iranian general."

* Puerto Rico: "The Department of Housing and Urban Development will allow Puerto Rico to access more than $8 billion in blocked disaster aid funding, ending a months-long hold by the Trump administration, according to people familiar with the matter."

* New evidence for Trump to ignore: "The past decade was the hottest ever recorded on the planet, driven by an acceleration of temperature increases in the past five years, according to data released Wednesday. The findings, released jointly by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, detail a troubling trajectory: 2019 was the second-hottest year on record, trailing only 2016. The past five years each rank among the five hottest since record-keeping began. And 19 of the hottest 20 years have occurred during the past two decades."

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On impeachment, head-in-the-sand stance now even harder to defend

01/15/20 01:00PM

On the eve of the House sending articles of presidential impeachment to the Senate for a trial, the House Intelligence Committee unveiled additional evidence, including materials the panel received from one of Rudy Giuliani's controversial associates, Lev Parnas.

As Politico noted, "The material released on Tuesday contains several handwritten notes, emails, encrypted messages, and other documents that underscore the close relationship between Parnas and Giuliani, who was actively pursuing an effort last year to push the Ukrainian government to announce investigations targeting Trump's political rivals."

That's true, though it's not all the materials underscore.

It's a little tough to summarize all of the revelations, but by any fair measure, they paint an extraordinary picture, with details that we not only didn't know, but also might have found difficult to even imagine. Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, for example, was apparently under some kind of surveillance, and might have even faced unspecified harm.

There's also a document in which Giuliani assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the Republican lawyer was operating in Kyiv with the "knowledge and consent" of Donald Trump, reinforcing suspicions about the American president's role in the Ukrainian scheme, and doing fresh harm to White House talking points.

There's plenty more. The latest evidence also suggests, for example, that Ukraine's top prosecutor was prepared to offer Giuliani anti-Biden dirt if Giuliani's White House friends recalled Yovanovitch, an ambassador who fiercely fought against corruption.

In theory, all of this evidence would be welcomed by senators who are eager to come to terms with the facts, get the whole story, and understand the degree to which the sitting American president may be corrupt and/or guilty. In practice, it's not quite working out that way. Consider Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) arguments on the Senate floor yesterday:

"We've arrived at a simple contradiction. Two things cannot be both true: House Democrats' case cannot simultaneously be so robust that it was enough to impeach in the first place, but also so weak that the Senate needs to go fishing.

"If the existing case is strong, there's no need for the judge and the jury to re-open the investigation. if the existing case is weak, House Democrats should not have impeached in the first place."

I'm not sure which is worse: the idea that McConnell was sincere in presenting this argument or the idea that he knew his pitch was absurd, and he presented it anyway.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.15.20

01/15/20 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* A Wisconsin appeals court yesterday blocked the effort to purge more than 200,000 names from the state's voter registration rolls. The move came just one day after a district court judge directed state election officials to begin the purge, regardless of the appeal.

* During last night's presidential primary debate, Bernie Sanders argued that general-election voters wouldn't much care about his embrace of the "socialist" label. There is some polling evidence, however, that suggests possible trouble.

* A new EPIC-MRA poll in Michigan tested Donald Trump against leading Democratic presidential hopefuls, and the incumbent trailed each of them. Michael Bloomberg, oddly enough, had a seven-point advantage over the Republican, while Joe Biden led Trump by six, Bernie Sanders led by five, Pete Buttigieg led by four, and Elizabeth Warren led by three.

* In California, home to a key Super Tuesday primary, the latest Public Policy Institute of California poll found a crowded top tier, with Sanders leading Biden, 27% to 24%, and Warren right behind them with 23%.

* Warren picked up her 12th congressional endorsement yesterday, when Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) threw his support behind the Massachusetts senator. His brother, former presidential hopeful Julian Castro, did the same thing last week.

* Speaking of the Bay State, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) yesterday announced endorsements from more than a dozen House Democrats for his Democratic primary against incumbent Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The list of Kennedy supporters included Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

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Pelosi introduces 'managers' who'll try Trump impeachment case

01/15/20 11:18AM

Once it became clear that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would end her delay of the impeachment proceedings, and send the articles to the Senate for a trial, there was one big question on the minds of observers: who'll try the case?

This morning, Pelosi introduced the prosecutorial team.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday announced the seven House Democrats who will act as the "managers" in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

The managers are: Reps. Adam Schiff of California, who will be the lead manager; Jerry Nadler of New York; Hakeem Jeffries of New York; Jason Crow of Colorado; Zoe Lofgren of California; Val Demings of Florida; and Sylvia Garcia of Texas.

The fact that there are seven impeachment managers is itself notable: during the Senate impeachment trial for Bill Clinton, there were 13 Republican managers, each of whom served on the House Judiciary Committee. More than two decades later, Pelosi has chosen a smaller, more diverse group, some of whom are not on the Judiciary panel.

In fact, their relevant experiences are of interest (in alphabetical order):

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Donald Trump

Trump keeps taking aim at House impeachment process, to no avail

01/15/20 10:38AM

The ongoing impeachment process against Donald Trump in the U.S. House will, to some extent, reach a milestone today. Nearly a month after members agreed to approve two articles of impeachment against the president, the chamber will approve a resolution to send the dispute to the U.S. Senate for a trial, along with a group of impeachment "managers" to try the case.

But as attention shifts from the south side of the Capitol to the North side, the president isn't yet done complaining about the process that brought us to this point.

Here, for example, was a tweet from the Republican on Monday:

"'We demand fairness' shouts Pelosi and the Do Nothing Democrats, yet the Dems in the House wouldn't let us have 1 witness, no lawyers or even ask questions. It was the most unfair witch-hunt in the history of Congress!"

Whether the president knows this or not is unclear, but the House Democratic majority invited the White House counsel's office to participate in the impeachment proceedings. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) explained that his panel explicitly gave the president "a fair opportunity to question witnesses and present his own to address the overwhelming evidence before us."

So when the president says House Dems "wouldn't let" Team Trump participate, the opposite is true. And yet, that didn't stop him from giving it another try last night:

"Cryin' Chuck Schumer just said, 'The American people want a fair trial in the Senate.' True, but why didn't Nervous Nancy and Corrupt politician Adam 'Shifty' Schiff give us a fair trial in the House. It was the most lopsided & unfair basement hearing in the history of Congress!"

It's tweets like these that suggest Trump is struggling to keep up with the basic details of current events surrounding his own presidency.

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A twenty dollar bill. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

$1 trillion deficits return, despite Trump's campaign promises

01/15/20 10:05AM

Donald Trump appeared on Rush Limbaugh's program last week and boasted that the United States is "taking in more revenue now than we did when we had the higher taxes because the economy's doing so well." It's a familiar thought in Republican circles: lower taxes fuel stronger economic growth, which leads to increased revenue. Ergo, the argument goes, tax cuts pay for themselves.

The trouble, of course, is that the president's claims were false. A Washington Post fact-check piece explained, "Trump gets virtually everything wrong in his framing.... The president needs a remedial lesson in budget policy."

It was against this backdrop that the New York Times reported on the latest deficit figures from the Treasury Department. Are the increased revenues Trump pointed to bringing the budget closer to balance? Not exactly.

The federal budget deficit surpassed $1 trillion in 2019, the Treasury Department reported on Monday, as tax cuts and spending increases continued to force heavy government borrowing amid a record-long economic expansion. [...]

The deficit has grown nearly four times as fast, on average, under Mr. Trump than it did under Mr. Obama. Mr. Trump has already added more to the national debt than Mr. Obama did in his entire second term -- $2.6 trillion, compared with Mr. Obama's $2.1 trillion.

Those hoping to see a smaller deficit probably won't like next year's numbers, either: in the first quarter of the current fiscal year (October through December), the budget deficit widened to $356.6 billion, just over these three months. It suggests the shortfall will likely be quite a bit larger this year than last.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, these aren't exactly the fiscal results Donald Trump promised the electorate before his election.

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally in Washington, June 9, 2016. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)

Why Trump, McCarthy seem so eager to side with Bernie Sanders

01/15/20 09:20AM

As those watching the Democratic presidential race have no doubt heard, one of the most recent points of contention has to do with a 2018 conversation between Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). At the risk of oversimplifying matters, Warren said she and Sanders disagreed in their private chat about whether a woman could win a presidential election.

The Vermont senator denies having made the comments, and last night in Wisconsin, Donald Trump took the time to side with Sanders.

President Donald Trump weighed in Tuesday night on the feud between Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., telling supporters at a campaign rally here that he did not believe that Sanders had said that a woman could not win the 2020 presidential election.

"I don't believe that he said this," Trump said, referring to reports that during a private conversation in 2018 Sanders told Warren he did not think a woman could win in 2020 — a statement the Sanders campaign has denied.

"I don't know him, I don't particularly like him, he's a nasty guy," Trump continued, while defending Sanders and arguing "it's just not the kind of a thing he'd say."

Because Donald Trump knows "the kind of things" Bernie Sanders might tell Elizabeth Warren in a private conversation?

A few hours earlier, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a close White House ally, spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference and, unprompted, started talking about the existence of Democratic superdelegates -- which McCarthy described as "horrific" -- before accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of delaying the president's Senate impeachment trial in order to somehow "hurt" Bernie Sanders.

McCarthy added that former Vice President Joe Biden should stop campaigning during Trump's impeachment trial -- out of deference to Sanders, who'll be tied up at the trial. (McCarthy made no mention of the other senators who'll also be taken off the campaign trail during the trial.)

All of this may seem bizarre -- and to a very real extent, it is -- but it's not accidental. There's a GOP strategy unfolding, and it's based on a couple of assumptions.

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Polls show public opposition to Trump's confrontation with Iran

01/15/20 08:40AM

Almost immediately after Donald Trump authorized an airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Republicans saw a political opportunity. The gambit was immediately turned into a fundraising pitch and a series of campaign ads, with GOP operatives assuming the president's risky gambit would be a campaign winner.

It was around the same time that pundits started speculating about a possible bump in the polls for Trump, and the degree to which the president might benefit from a rally-around-the-flag dynamic that sometimes happens in the immediate aftermath of a national security confrontation.

Two weeks after the Jan. 3 airstrike, however, much of the public is not on board with Trump's latest posture toward Iran.

More Americans disapprove than approve of President Trump's handling of the situation with Iran, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll. But they are split along party lines, and the results largely reflect the president's approval rating.

By a 49%-42% margin, Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of Iran.... Trump's job approval is steady at 41%, with a majority of Americans (53%) continuing to disapprove of the job he's doing.

It's safe to say the president, after presenting himself as a hero for having risked a war with Iran, thought his approval rating would be higher than 41% in the wake of the Soleimani slaying.

The results from the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll are roughly in line with the latest Quinnipiac poll, also released this week, which found 51% of Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of Iran, while 43% approve.

The same survey found a 45% plurality believing that the killing of Soleimani has made the United States less safe, not more, which is the opposite of the line the White House has pushed aggressively in the wake of the airstrike.

Recent polling from ABC News and USA Today pointed in very similar directions.

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