POLITICO Playbook: Washington’s December nightmare


WE’VE COVERED A LOT OF DECEMBER LEGISLATIVE NIGHTMARES. This one might be the worst. Not only are there a ton of issues, but there are also a ton of explosive and contentious issues on a collision course. The WHITE HOUSE is under siege, and the DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY is trying to do backflips on a tightrope. Time is a precious commodity, as is political capital, and everyone is going to try to maximize both.

IT’S FOLLY at this point to predict what might happen, because no one has any clue. But there are a few storylines worth keeping a close eye on, based on our reporting and the collective wisdom of our colleagues. (Thanks to Bres for helping with the timeline.)

— HOUSE DEMOCRATS WANT TO IMPEACH BY YEAR END. IS THAT DOABLE OR ADVISABLE? Some Dems are starting to think that rushing to complete the process by the end of the year — a completely arbitrary deadline — is a dumb idea. Democrats, for their part, want to strike while the iron is hot and not leave such an explosive issue lingering.

BUT TIME IS QUITE SHORT, and the politics are getting even more complicated for House Dems. This week: House Intel Chairman ADAM SCHIFF (D-Calif.) will start circulating his report to members, and his committee will vote on it Tuesday. Expect attacks on Schiff and the Intel process and continued undermining of the committee’s work. Wednesday is Judiciary’s first hearing about what an impeachable offense is. THE PRESIDENT — as we foreshadowed last week — is not participating.

SOMETIME DURING THIS WEEK, House Judiciary Chairman JERRY NADLER (D-N.Y.) will likely formally announce a hearing with Schiff to present the report. By Friday, the White House has to say whether it will participate in the impeachment process at all.

NEXT WEEK (DEC. 9): Expect an early presentation of Schiff’s report and the noticing of a Republican response. Will this happen during the same week? Unclear — but it will be telling in understanding whether Dems can impeach by the end of the year. The DOJ IG report on the origins of the Russia probe will come out this same week. And Congress will likely begin considering some funding bills ahead of a Dec. 20 deadline (more on that in a second).

WEEK OF DEC. 16: Expect a public GOP response in the committee to Schiff and his report this week. And, if the Dems want to impeach before the end of the year, we’d have to see articles of impeachment this week. Remember: It took Judiciary three days in 1998 to draft impeachment articles. And, to complicate things further, government funding runs out Dec. 20.

PONDER THIS: Politically, Democrats are already all in on impeachment. Yes, they’re worried about the onset of the 2020 primary contests, but what do they gain by jamming it through now instead of waiting until next year?

INTERESTING … AS WE REPORTED LAST WEEK, the president’s lawyers are not participating in the impeachment proceedings at the moment. Read PAT CIPOLLONE’S letter to the Judiciary Committee. Unlike his last letter, which was completely political and sounded like President DONALD TRUMP wrote it, this one sounds like a lawyer. He says they have no idea who is testifying, they don’t have adequate time to prepare, and Democrats did not ask when his lawyers would be available. Read the letterMore from Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney NYT’s Nick Fandos on the process moving to Judiciary

— OK, AND WHAT ABOUT GOVERNMENT FUNDING? The government will shut down in 18 days — absent congressional action — and there are many strategies being discussed. Congress could move some low-hanging fruit — non-controversial government funding bills — and then delay the tough ones until next year. That seems the most logical, but people involved in the talks seem to think they will be able to fund the entire government this month. There are 12 appropriations bills.

ONE THING IS CLEAR: It’s in no one’s interest to fall back on a full-year stopgap bill, which would result in $100 billion less of government spending. And, furthermore, a shutdown doesn’t serve SENATE REPUBLICANS’ interest, since their majority is at risk next year, and they have nothing to gain from a funding lapse.

BUT HERE’S A WILD CARD: Will one pro-Trump senator hold up government funding with some demand on impeachment?

— NOW CONSIDER EVERYTHING ELSE. Can you imagine getting a package of tax extenders through? Can you foresee USMCA squeezing through this tight timeline? How about NDAA?

Good Monday morning.

WSJ: “President Trump Shifts Tone Ahead of NATO Summit: Trump heads to London eager to lead on foreign policy as impeachment inquiry continues at home,” by Catherine Lucey: “President Trump heads to a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization this week, seeking to showcase his work on the world stage as the impeachment inquiry continues at home.

“Mr. Trump, who as a candidate labeled the alliance obsolete, has upended past gatherings with his complaints that members must spend more on defense. But his White House struck a more conciliatory tone ahead of the Dec. 3-4 meeting to mark NATO’s 70th anniversary, taking credit for increased military spending by member countries and declaring that the ‘trans-Atlantic relationship is in a very, very healthy place.’” WSJ

THE VIEW FROM ACROSS THE POND … JACK BLANCHARD on the timing of Trump’s visit, just ahead of the British elections: “The U.S. president represents the sort of random factor you frankly do not want in play when you have a soft-ish but healthy lead in the polls and just want everything to carry on as it is in the runup to polling day. The weekend papers were full of stories that the PM will be keeping his distance as much as possible, but in the end there will be no restraining Trump if he decides to stick his oar into U.K. politics this week.” London Playbook

… AND IN CHINA … BLOOMBERG: “China to Sanction U.S. Nonprofits, Halt Navy Visits Over Hong Kong”: “China vowed to sanction some American rights organizations and halt warship visits to Hong Kong in response to President Donald Trump’s decision to sign legislation supporting the city’s protesters.

“Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news briefing Monday that groups targeted for sanctions included the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House. Hua said that China would also suspend further Hong Kong port visits by U.S. Navy ships over the legislation, which Trump signed into law Wednesday.

“Hua didn’t provide details on how China would sanction the rights groups, which are already restricted from operating on the mainland. Similarly, China had already refused visits by a pair of American warships in August.” Bloomberg

GIULIANI’S PAL PURGED … WAPO’S MICHAEL BIRNBAUM and DAVID STERN: “Ukraine’s Zelensky is making headway against corruption. But the fight risks angering Trump”: “By the end of this month, more than 500 Ukrainian prosecutors will be out of their jobs as part of sweeping professional reviews under Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Among the prosecutors heading for the exit: a key Kyiv contact for Rudolph W. Giuliani.

“The prosecutor purge is just one of several corruption-busting efforts set in motion by Zelensky. But it puts into sharp relief Zelensky’s twin challenges — trying to balance his clean-government promises at home with his needs to keep President Trump from turning against him.” WaPo

KNOWING JAY SEKULOW — “Trump’s Other Personal Lawyer: Close to the Right, but Far From Giuliani,” by NYT’s Elizabeth Williamson: “Jay Sekulow is a real lawyer, and he plays one on TV. Mr. Sekulow, the coordinator of President Trump’s personal legal team, does not have an office in the White House. He is best known as a prodigious fund-raiser on evangelical television and a litigator for the Christian right, not for handling criminal prosecutions or executive power disputes. In 2016, Mr. Sekulow said he voted for Hillary Clinton, according to people close to him.

“Yet with the House Judiciary Committee set to begin impeachment hearings on Wednesday and Mr. Trump enmeshed in legal battles on other fronts — like his tax returns, claims of immunity from prosecution and elements of his immigration and health care policies — Mr. Sekulow has emerged as one of Mr. Trump’s most trusted advisers and loyal defenders in the news media.

“Operating under the name Constitutional Litigation & Advocacy Group from a co-working space in a Pennsylvania Avenue office building, Mr. Sekulow, 63, coordinates the efforts of eight outside lawyers enlisted to help Mr. Trump. He is in regular touch with the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, and speaks frequently with the president.” NYT

ALEX ISENSTADT and MELANIE ZANONA: “Georgia governor set to buck Trump on Senate appointment”: “Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has begun informing Republican officials he plans to appoint financial services executive Kelly Loeffler to the state’s soon-to-be vacant Senate seat, according to three people familiar with the conversations.

“Members of the state’s Republican congressional delegation were among those to receive a heads-up from Kemp on his decision, according to an aide to a House Republican from Georgia who received a call from the governor over the weekend. A spokesperson for Kemp declined to comment. Loeffler’s expected selection was first reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“The choice could face serious backlash from conservatives. President Donald Trump has told Kemp he favors GOP Rep. Doug Collins, a staunch ally and the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, for the appointment. Kemp took Loeffler to the White House late last month to meet with the president. But the meeting did not go as planned: Trump raised pointed concerns about whether Loeffler — who has never run for elected office before — is seasoned enough in politics to receive the nod.” POLITICO

2020 WATCH …

— AP: “Democrats aim to catch up to Trump’s 2020 cash advantage,” by Brian Slodysko: “Democrats are narrowing President Donald Trump’s early spending advantage, with two billionaire White House hopefuls joining established party groups to target the president in key battleground states that are likely to determine the outcome of next year’s election.

“Priorities USA and American Bridge, two of the leading Democratic outside groups, are ramping up operations. The organization ACRONYM recently pledged to spend $75 million. And former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged to spend $100 million on ads targeting Trump, while California billionaire Tom Steyer promised $50 million.

“The billionaires have come under fire from some Democratic rivals for trying to buy the presidency. But the influx of cash is soothing anxiety in some corners of the party that Trump, who has repeatedly broken fundraising records, was off to an unprecedented early start in the 2020 advertising wars. Some had argued that the Democrats’ overwhelming focus on the sprawling presidential primary field allowed the president to burnish a reelection narrative unchallenged ahead of what is expected to be an exceptionally close election.” AP

— NATASHA KORECKI in Carroll, Iowa: “Democrats call BS on malarkey”: “‘NO MALARKEY!’ screams the campaign slogan on Joe Biden’s bus chugging through 18 Iowa counties this week. At stops along the way, aides hand out stickers and posters to voters featuring the rallying cry. But when one high schooler attending the former vice president’s event in Council Bluffs was asked if she knew what malarkey means, she squinted up at the massive bus with a puzzled look. ‘Malarkey?’ Cece West asked. ‘I’ve never heard of it before.’

“West’s response highlights a potential problem with a term that Biden has put at the center of his candidacy in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. And some of the complaints about it are an extension of how Biden skeptics feel about the candidate himself. They don’t love or hate the slogan. Some of them said it’s kind of funny; others, kind of corny. While some voters welcomed the slogan as a throwback to a calmer era, others said it will only alienate younger voters. But many said, bottom line, they don’t quite get it.” POLITICO

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: Pete Buttigieg’s campaign is bringing on Rachel Thomas as deputy communications director, Matt Corridoni as deputy rapid response communications director and Hasoni Pratts as national constituency director. Thomas was previously with Beto O’Rourke’s campaign, Corridoni was previously with Seth Moulton’s campaign and his Serve America PAC, and Pratts was most recently VP of opportunity zones for New York state.

“Joe Sestak ends 2020 presidential bid,” by Rishika Dugyala

TRUMP’S MONDAY — The president and first lady Melania Trump will depart the White House at 9:45 a.m. en route to London. They will arrive at 9:45 p.m. local time (4:45 p.m. Eastern time).

INTERVIEW DU JOUR — “Lisa Page Speaks: ‘There’s No Fathomable Way I Have Committed Any Crime at All’” by The Daily Beast’s Molly Jong-Fast: “‘I had stayed quiet for years hoping it would fade away, but instead it got worse,’ the former FBI lawyer told Jong-Fast. ‘It had been so hard not to defend myself, to let people who hate me control the narrative. I decided to take my power back.’” Daily BeastPage’s new Twitter handle

ZACH WARMBRODT: “Maxine Waters’ new challenge: AOC and freshman upstarts”: “California Democrat Katie Porter fought with her over committee procedures. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the Squad of progressive female lawmakers withheld their support from her over the Export-Import Bank. Their staffs have pressed her team to give them more time to weigh in on bills.

“The target of these progressive freshmen: not some conservative Republican. It’s liberal icon Maxine Waters, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, who is facing growing dissatisfaction — and at times outright rebellion — from high-profile, left-leaning lawmakers who joined the panel earlier this year.

“Some progressives have openly lamented the committee’s leanings toward more moderate, business-friendly Democrats who dominate its ranks — a dynamic largely outside of Waters’ control. Ocasio-Cortez vented at a Nov. 19 hearing on private equity that she was ‘quite upset’ with softball questions that members on both sides of the aisle were tossing at representatives of leveraged buyout firms tied to mass layoffs at companies like Toys ‘R’ Us.

“‘There’s sometimes been some tensions,’ Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview.” POLITICO

THE ATLANTIC’S YONI APPELBAUM: “The United States is undergoing a transition perhaps no rich and stable democracy has ever experienced: Its historically dominant group is on its way to becoming a political minority—and its minority groups are asserting their co-equal rights and interests. If there are precedents for such a transition, they lie here in the United States, where white Englishmen initially predominated, and the boundaries of the dominant group have been under negotiation ever since. Yet those precedents are hardly comforting. Many of these renegotiations sparked political conflict or open violence, and few were as profound as the one now under way.” The Atlantic

FOR YOUR RADAR … HAPPENING TODAY … WSJ: “An 1,800-mile pipeline is set to begin delivering Russian natural gas to China on Monday. The $55 billion channel is a feat of energy infrastructure—and political engineering.

“Russia’s most significant energy project since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Power of Siberia pipeline is a physical bond strengthening a new era of cooperation between two world powers that have separately challenged the U.S.

“Beijing and Moscow, after years of rivalry and mutual suspicion, are expanding an economic and strategic partnership influencing global politics, trade and energy markets. At the same time, Beijing is fighting a trade war with Washington, and Russia’s relations with the West grow colder.” WSJ

MEDIAWATCH — “CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell” tonight starts broadcasting from its new home base in D.C. … per CNN’s Brian Stelter: “New EP Jay Shaylor will be based in DC, and the show will split staff between DC and NYC.” CBS announcement

— WHAT INSIDERS WILL BE WATCHING FOR: Being based in D.C. is interesting and unique. But what will CBS do differently than ABC and NBC, which both have staff here and can get their anchors down here in an hour or so?

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: Kelly Jane Torrance is now an editorial board member at the New York Post. She previously was senior editor for defense and foreign policy at the Washington Examiner and is a Weekly Standard alum.

— Troy Bentley is joining Andrea Mitchell’s team at MSNBC. He previously worked for CNN’s “Reliable Sources” with Brian Stelter. Reliable Sources

Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at politicoplaybook@politico.com.

SPOTTED: John Kasich at Andiamo at the Detroit airport. Pic … Ed Royce on a United flight from LAX to Dulles on Sunday afternoon. … U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich and Newt Gingrich waiting to board a flight from Boston Logan to Dulles on Sunday night. … Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) in coach on a Delta flight from Atlanta to DCA on Sunday afternoon.

TRANSITION — Mark Carney will be U.N. special envoy for climate action and finance. He currently is governor of the Bank of England. BBC

ENGAGED — Evan Fuka, an analyst for E3 Federal Solutions, proposed to Elizabeth Murray, director of operations for Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), at the Sagamore. Pic

WEEKEND WEDDING — Lexie Hosier, digital director for Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Aaron Rock, a Marine Corps veteran who is getting a master’s in international relations from the University of Indianapolis and works at the Hamilton County Humane Society, got married Friday at the Mill Top in Noblesville, Ind. They met while working at Wounded Warrior Project. Pic with their dog, Tilly

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Dan Puskar, president and CEO of the Public Lands Alliance, is 41. A fun fact that people might not know about him: “Most weekends I am swinging on a flying trapeze, upside-down, and catching people in mid-air. I’m lucky to be part of a welcoming, supportive community at Trapeze School New York – Washington, DC in Navy Yard, and have been a part-time instructor there for three years. Anyone seeking a novel way to take their mind and body out of D.C.’s hectic pace should check out flying trapeze.” Playbook Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is 8-0 … Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) is 59 … former A.G. Edwin Meese is 88 … Stone Phillips is 65 … Cal Thomas is 77 … Bob Carey … Grant Everett Starrett … former Rep. Carol Shea Porter (D-N.H.) is 67 … former Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Texas) is 58 … Emily Schultheis … Carrie Wofford … Kelly Klass of Locust Street Group … Marc La Vorgna, spokesman for Michael Bloomberg’s campaign … Glover Park Group’s Mina Moore … Lauren Cross is 28 … Sam Schneider … Nancy Haberman is 72 … Ken Babby … Jason Huntsberry … Alex Short … Christina McSween …

… Brad Mielke, ABC reporter and host of the “Start Here” podcast … Caroline Gangware … Mark Irion, head of strategic communications at Hogan Lovells … Eleanor Schiff … Mairéad Lynn, deputy director of communications at EMILY’s List … Erin Bailey … Andrew Howell, partner at Monument Advocacy … Patricia Rojas-Ungár, VP for government affairs at the Outdoor Industry Association … John Hollis, author and comms manager at GMU (h/ts Stewart Verdery) … former Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) is 76 … Conyers Davis … Rayshon Payton … Evan Walker … Shannon Kiely Heider … Mark A. Shiffrin … Celeste Brown



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