HERE’S WHAT’S CLEAR if you talk to House and Senate Democratic insiders: Speaker NANCY PELOSI is on the brink of ending her hold of the impeachment articles. The House is going to send them to the Senate in the near future, which will trigger the trial, most likely in the next few weeks. PELOSI has not given any hints of exactly when she might start this process, but we were told late Wednesday night this is coming soon.
THE LEFT WAS CLAMORING for PELOSI to hold the articles, in an attempt to get Senate Majority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL to agree to witnesses. He didn’t — and most people realized he never would.
PELOSI ALLIES, though, say they forced a weekslong public discussion on impeachment trial witnesses, and whether MCCONNELL should be forced to guarantee them.
HERE’S WHAT A SENIOR DEM AIDE TOLD US: “The hold was clearly successful. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but a huge part of what we wanted was a national spotlight on the fairness of the trial. There’s no question we achieved that.”
DEMOCRATS WERE COMPLETELY UNIFIED UNTIL WEDNESDAY, when Senate Democrats crumbled in a stunning story by BURGESS EVERETT and HEATHER CAYGLE … Read the story. (BTW … Consider that Pelosi’s 232 Democrats stuck together for a few weeks, and Senate Democratic support crumbled within days.)
BUT THE REALITY IS THIS: Leverage works only if both sides want something from each other. DEMOCRATS wanted MCCONNELL to accede to their demands, but MCCONNELL had the votes to do what he wanted, and never really needed anything from Democrats.
WHERE PELOSI CAN MAKE NEWS: THE SPEAKER has her weekly 10:45 a.m. news conference this morning. The House is in today and Friday. PELOSI will be on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
MITCH, TRUMP HUDDLE ABOUT IMPEACHMENT AT THE W.H. … CNN, via Manu Raju, Phil Mattingly and Pamela Brown: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump met Wednesday at the White House and discussed the upcoming Senate impeachment trial, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
“McConnell, one of the sources said, walked Trump through the trial format and discussed how Senate Republicans were reacting to the developments around the trial. … The senator from Kentucky has not shared with the White House the text of the resolution that would set up the trial, according to one of the sources, who insists there’s no negotiation with the GOP leader’s office on how the language should be drafted. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has demanded to see the resolution before sending the two articles of impeachment to the Senate.”
Good Thursday morning.
WHAT MEGHAN AND HARRY’S DECISION MEANS FOR … Just kidding.
TRADE DEAL STAGECRAFT … WSJ: “China to Send Chief Trade Negotiator to U.S. to Sign Phase-One Deal,” by Lingling Wei in Beijing: “Chinese President Xi Jinping’s chief trade negotiator will travel to Washington early next week to sign a phase-one trade deal with the U.S., China’s Commerce Ministry said Thursday, the first official confirmation by Beijing on the signing of an agreement that could help ease bilateral tensions.
“The Chinese delegation, to be led by Vice Premier Liu He, will visit Washington from Monday to Wednesday, Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said at a weekly briefing. …
“Mr. Liu will lead a 10-member delegation to Washington, the people familiar with the matter said. The delegation includes: Zhong Shan, China’s commerce minister; Yi Gang, governor of China’s central bank; Ning Jizhe, a top official at the country’s economic-planning agency; Liao Min, vice finance minister and trusted aide to Mr. Liu; Zheng Zeguang, vice foreign minister; Wang Zhijun, vice minister of industry and information technology; Han Jun, vice agriculture minister; and Wang Shouwen, vice commerce minister.
“Beijing’s ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, will also attend the signing ceremony, currently scheduled to take place next Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. EST at the White House, according to the people. Some 200 people, including representatives from major American trade groups, are expected to be in attendance.” WSJ
IRAN TICK TOCK … NYT: “3 Hours From Alert to Attacks: Inside the Race to Protect U.S. Forces From Iran Strikes,” by Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt, Lara Jakes and Thomas Gibbons-Neff: “The alert came to the White House shortly after 2 p.m. on Tuesday, a flash message from American spy agencies that officials sometimes call a ‘squawk.’ In the coming hours, it warned, an Iranian attack on American troops was almost certain.
“A blizzard of potential threats had already come throughout the day — of attacks with missiles and rockets, of terrorist strikes against Americans elsewhere in the Middle East, even one warning that hundreds of Iran-backed militia fighters might try to assault Al Asad Air Base, a sprawling compound in Iraq’s western desert.
“But the specificity of the afternoon’s latest warning sent Vice President Mike Pence and Robert C. O’Brien, the White House national security adviser, to the basement of the West Wing, where aides were assembling in the Situation Room. President Trump joined shortly after wrapping up a meeting with the Greek prime minister. …
“The early warning provided by intelligence helps explain in part why the missiles exacted a negligible toll, destroying only evacuated aircraft hangars as they slammed into the desert sand in barren stretches of the base. No Americans or Iraqis were killed or wounded, and Mr. Trump, who indicated to advisers he would prefer to avoid further engagement, was relieved.”
DAVID SANGER with a news analysis on NYT A1: “Trump’s Iran Strategy: A Cease-Fire Wrapped in a Strategic Muddle”: “President Trump opened a small window for diplomacy with Iran on Wednesday, but combined his words with bald threats that made it hard to see how the two countries could break out of their cycle of confrontation and revenge.
“The speech was, in many ways, the sound of muddled policy. It showed that after three years in office, Mr. Trump has yet to resolve the two conflicting instincts on national security that emerge from his speeches and his Twitter feed: bellicosity and disengagement.
“And he included all the other requisite elements of a Trump policy speech on Iran: burning resentment of President Barack Obama, critiques of his predecessor’s nuclear deal, dubious factual claims and campaign-year self-congratulation.” NYT
NANCY COOK, BURGESS EVERETT and MERIDITH MCGRAW: “After ripping up Obama’s Iran playbook, Trump quickly pieces it back together”
AP’S JONATHAN LEMIRE: “Analysis: Trump seeks election-year out after Iran strikes”: “Trump, by declining to take military action in retaliation for Iranian missile strikes against Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops, edged the nation back from the brink of a war that could have destabilized the Middle East. That fits with his broader foreign policy pattern: talk tough but stay away from armed conflict.
“And that approach, mixed with a bit of luck and Iran’s own desire to avoid open conflict, could allow Trump to pull off dual election-year goals of projecting strength while placating those who backed him because of his promise to withdraw the United States from ‘endless’ wars in the Middle East.” AP
HAPPENING TODAY … THE HOUSE will vote on a War Powers Resolution aimed at forcing the president to stop hostilities in Iran without congressional approval.
WAPO’S CAROL LEONNIG and DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: “Mnuchin seeks delay of proposed disclosure of Secret Service spending on presidential travel until after election”: “The Trump administration is seeking to delay a Democratic effort to require the Secret Service to disclose how much it spends protecting President Trump and his family when they travel — until after the 2020 election, according to people familiar with the discussions.
“The issue has emerged as a sticking point in recent weeks as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and key senators have been negotiating draft legislation to move the Secret Service back to his department, its historic home.
“Mnuchin has balked at Democratic demands that the bill require the Secret Service to disclose the costs related to the travel of the president and his adult children within 120 days after it is passed, according to people with knowledge of the talks. Mnuchin has agreed to Democrats’ push for a requirement that the Secret Service report its travel expenses but wants such disclosures to begin after the election.” WaPo
BORDER WALL UPDATE — “Appeals court lifts block on $3.6 billion for Trump border wall plan,” by Josh Gerstein: “A divided federal appeals court has lifted a lower court’s order blocking $3.6 billion in military construction funds that President Donald Trump planned to use to finance an expanded and improved border wall.
“The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a brief order on Wednesday granting the Trump administration’s request to stay the injunction that U.S. District Court Judge David Briones, based in El Paso, Texas, issued last month. The three-judge appeals court panel split along ideological lines, with two Republican appointees voting to temporarily set aside the injunction and the sole Democratic appointee dissenting.
“The 5th Circuit panel’s majority did not provide a detailed explanation for its action, but noted that last July the Supreme Court stayed a similar injunction issued by a federal judge in Oakland, Calif.” POLITICO
2020 WATCH …
— NEW … FOX NEWS’ town hall with PETE BUTTIGIEG will be held at the River Center in Des Moines at 7 p.m. on Jan. 26 — one week before the Iowa caucuses. CHRIS WALLACE will moderate.
— NATASHA KORECKI in Cedar Rapids, Iowa: “‘The gloves-off strategy didn’t work’: Biden eyes Bernie as growing threat”: “When Bernie Sanders attacked Joe Biden recently, the former vice president dismissed his former Senate colleague with a contemptuous brush-off. ‘You guys expect me to take Bernie’s comments seriously? Come on,’ Biden told reporters as he left an Iowa campaign event last week. ‘I don’t respond to Bernie’s ridiculous comments.’ But that’s Biden’s public posture.
“Both in tactics and rhetoric, there are growing signs he takes his rival very seriously — and that he increasingly views Sanders as his most formidable opponent in Iowa and beyond. The Biden campaign has specifically courted the endorsement of community leaders in Iowa who backed Sanders in 2016.
“They’ve sought to combat Sanders’ recent habit of rolling out star surrogates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with their own A-list surrogates. And last week, Biden’s five-day Iowa bus tour heavily concentrated on the eastern part of the state — the biggest regional battleground between the two candidates because of its concentration of working-class voters.” POLITICO
— “Poll: Biden, Bloomberg hold largest leads against Trump in Michigan,” by Detroit News’ Beth LeBlanc and Craig Mauger: “Former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg hold the best chances among the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls of defeating President Donald Trump in Michigan, according to a new statewide poll.
“Among the five Democratic candidates near the top of the primary field, Biden has the widest lead against Trump at 7 percentage points, 50% to 43%, according to a Jan. 3-7 survey of 600 likely Michigan voters by the Glengariff Group and provided to The Detroit News.” Detroit News
— “Facebook sticking with policies on politicians’ lies and voter targeting,” by Alexandra Levine and Zach Montellaro: “Facebook is standing by its policies that allow politicians to lie to voters, while targeting their ads at narrow subsets of the public — decisions with vast implications for the more than $1 billion in online campaign messaging expected in this year’s elections.
“The online giant announced Thursday morning that it is not changing the most controversial elements of its approach to campaign ads, after months of a debate that has divided Silicon Valley and brought Facebook a barrage of criticism from Democrats. The critics have been most incensed by Facebook’s refusal to fact-check politicians’ claims, accusing the company of knowingly profiting from deception.
“Facebook has defended the policy on free-speech grounds, saying voters should be the ones scrutinizing politicians’ messages. …
“Facebook also said it is taking steps to give users more control over and insight into the ads they see, as well as improving its publicly available database of its political advertisements — allowing for more precise searches and filtering of ads and offering size estimates for their target audience. And the company announced it will soon allow users to control the volume of political and social issue ads they see.” POLITICO
— NYT’S ASTEAD HERNDON: “How Elizabeth Warren Is Being Squeezed by 2 Democratic Factions”: “[I]n more than two dozen interviews during Ms. Warren’s two most recent trips to Iowa, [voters] have expressed a growing fear that her candidacy is neither satisfying nor uniting the political factions in the party.
“‘It’s been a problem,’ said Peter Leo, the chairman of Iowa’s Carroll County Democrats, who has endorsed Ms. Warren. ‘She’s getting hit from the left and the right.’ Ms. Warren’s conundrum is tied to the all-important notion of ‘electability,’ the vague and sometimes discriminatory concept that has become paramount to Democratic voters who are motivated by defeating Mr. Trump.”
TRUMP’S THURSDAY — The president will announce proposed environmental regulations at 11 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room. Trump will receive his intel briefing at 2 p.m. in the Oval Office. He will leave the White House at 4:15 p.m. en route to Toledo, Ohio. He will arrive at the Huntington Center at 6:35 p.m. and deliver remarks at a political rally at 7 p.m. Afterward, he will return to Washington.
JOHN HARRIS’ ALTITUDE COLUMN: “‘He is our O.J.’: POLITICO readers explain why they’re standing with Trump during impeachment”: “Explain yourself, I asked readers who are indignant about President Donald Trump’s impeachment shortly before the holiday break. I wasn’t asking merely for a defense of Trump, but for an honest illumination of what defenders would think if the essential facts in the Ukraine matter were the same except for one — Hillary Clinton were president.
“Several hundred people sent emails, the majority of them thoughtfully composed and accepting the invitation in good faith. This was a vivid window into the Age of Trump. With sincerity, candor, and even a measure of wistful idealism, people shared their views of a political and media culture they believe is cynical at its core. If almost nothing is on the level, almost anything goes.
“For Keith Swartz, who is 66 years old and runs a recruiting firm based in Tacoma, almost anything includes a president he regards as ‘manic, uneducated, illogical,’ and also ‘essentially a horrible person….vulgar, amoral, narcissistic.’
“Wait, this a defense of Trump? Yes, hang on. He’s done a fine job on the economy, in particular, in the face of a Democratic opposition that has bent rules and abused process for three years in an implacable bid to thwart him. ‘To those of us who support what he has accomplished,’ Swartz concluded, ‘it feels like he is our O.J.’
“That’s right: O.J. Simpson, not previously a conservative hero. In his 2016 promises to ‘Make America Great Again,’ Trump did not invoke the racially riven Los Angeles of the 1990s as his model. But Swartz’s admirably forthright comparison — with biased media and unscrupulous Democrats serving as proxies for racist cops — captured the spirit of many replies.”
PLAYBOOK METRO SECTION — “Jan. 23 deadline set for bids on Trump D.C. hotel,” by WaPo’s Jonathan O’Connell: “Companies interested in buying the lease rights to President Trump’s luxury Washington hotel have until Jan. 23 to submit initial bids, according to marketing materials sent to potential bidders Wednesday and obtained by The Washington Post.
“The company hired to market the hotel, JLL, emailed potential bidders with a ‘call for offers’ asking that they submit a proposed purchase price, the name of the hotel chain that would operate the hotel, names of investors and how long it would take to close a deal, according to the materials. Interested buyers are also encouraged to schedule tours of the building before the deadline, according to the materials.” WaPo
— WSJ’S CRAIG KARMIN: “The company was hoping initially to get more than $500 million for the lease rights, people familiar with the matter said. That would represent about $2 million per room key, which hotel brokers and investors say would be a record for Washington by that metric. Potential buyers have balked at that figure, and brokers have indicated the Trumps are willing to negotiate on price and other terms, said people familiar with the matter.” WSJ
LETTER FROM BERLIN … POLITICO EUROPE’S MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG: “When it comes to finding adjectives to describe U.S. President Donald Trump’s assassination of Iranian military guru Qassem Soleimani, which prompted the Iranians to respond by launching missile attacks on bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops overnight, European officials have displayed rare unity. At least in private.
“Behind the sober public pronouncements from Brussels and national capitals about the need for ‘de-escalation,’ officials are seething.” POLITICO Europe
DOCUMENT DUMP … HARDCORE IMPEACHMENT JUNKIES ONLY: “State Department releases additional Ukraine documents to American Oversight”: “The production includes several heavily redacted emails from senior State Department officials. Among the documents are a letter sent to former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch instructing her not to testify or to produce documents to Congress in the impeachment inquiry, and a response from Yovanovitch’s lawyer. …
“Wednesday’s release is also notable for what is missing — specifically, any written record of communications between top State Department officials and Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.”
MEDIAWATCH — “Fox News Hosts Were Against A Ground War With Iran. Trump Listened,” by BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray and Miriam Elder: “Fox News personalities by and large supported President Donald Trump’s confrontation with Iran over the past week. But between the lines, even the most ardent Trump supporters on Fox’s opinion side like Sean Hannity stopped short of encouraging all-out war … And one of Fox’s biggest opinion hosts has consistently criticized the confrontation with Iran. … [A]ccording to a source with knowledge of the conversations, Trump told people that he had watched [Tucker] Carlson’s show and it had affected his view on the Iran situation.” BuzzFeed
— NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker will co-host the “Weekend Today Show” along with Peter Alexander.
— David Muir of ABC News will be awarded the Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award at the Radio Television Digital News Foundation 30th annual First Amendment Awards on March 5.
Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPOTTED: Justice Elena Kagan dining at Thamee on Wednesday night.
SPOTTED at a birthday party for Heather Podesta at Centrolina on Wednesday night: Democratic Sens. Doug Jones (Ala.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Mark Warner (Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Tina Smith (Minn.), Democratic Reps. Brad Schneider (Ill.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.), Don Beyer (Va.), Debbie Dingell (Mich.), Eric Swalwell (Calif.), Greg Stanton (Ariz.), Gil Cisneros (Calif.), Linda Sánchez (Calif.), Jim Himes (Conn.), Joe Kennedy (Mass.), Katherine Clark (Mass.), Lauren Underwood (Ill.), Lucy McBath (Ga.), Mikie Sherrill (N.J.), Rodney Davis (Ill.), Salud Carbajal (Calif.), Sean Casten (Ill.), Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Veronica Escobar (Texas) and Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) …
… Adrienne Elrod, Amy Weiss, Betsy Fischer Martin, Carol Melton, Ceci Connolly, Danielle Burr, Gloria Dittus, Heather Kennedy, Jeanne Cummings, Joanna Coles, Melissa Moss, Juleanna Glover, Kent Knutson, Kris Coratti, Manuel Roig-Franzia, Margaret Carlson, Nancy Zirkin, Neera Tanden, Priya Bayananda, Stephanie Cutter, Steve Clemons, Tammy Haddad, Dan Turrentine, Beth Ellikidis, Nick Giordano, Shannon McGahn, Chris Brose, Robert Hoffman and Stephen Ciccone.
TRANSITIONS — Jessica Mackler and Jerusalem Demsas are joining the Democratic Governors Association as independent expenditure director and national press secretary. Demsas previously was South Carolina communications director for Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign. Mackler previously was president of the American Bridge 21st Century.
NEW … The Harvard Institute of Politics announced its slate of spring resident fellows: Tiffany Cross, the Beat DC co-founder and managing editor; former British Ambassador Kim Darroch; Mark Harvey, special assistant to the president and senior director for resilience policy at the NSC; Rohini Kosoglu, former chief of staff for Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign; Tara Setmayer, a CNN and ABC political commentator and former communications director for former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.); and former Alaska Gov. Bill Walker.
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Kenya Young, executive producer of NPR’s “Morning Edition.” A fun fact about her: “During one of my unemployed stints in between career changes I freelanced as a foley artist. You can hear my screams, footsteps, water gulping and door slams in several late ’90s movies.” Playbook Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: Ben Taub, staff writer for The New Yorker … Brooke Brower, managing editor of CNN Politics, is 42 … Pamela Walsh … Linda Greenhouse is 73 … U.N. Development Programme’s Sarah Jackson-Han … Elizabeth Caputo, head of U.S. government engagement at the World Economic Forum (h/t Tim Burger) … former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is 53 … Mark Stencel … former Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.) is 68 … Fred Wertheimer … Erica Flint … Tim Punke, partner at Monument Advocacy, is 49 (h/t Stewart Verdery) … Elaine Stern … Al Felzenberg … POLITICO’s Desmond Hester … Don Kent, partner at the Nickles Group … WSJ’s Charles Passy is 56 … Peter Edelman, law professor at Georgetown University, is 82 … Steven Kotler … Linda Greenhouse …
… Lauren Fritts, head of public affairs for U.S. and Canada and Israel at WeWork … Isabelle Solomon … Kim Larson … Luke Holland, COS for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), is 33 … Josiah Ryan, CNN senior producer … Tasha Hendershot … Richard Neffson … Deana Bass Williams … Dan Black … Cristina Diaz-Torres … Washingtonian’s Jessica Sidman … BuzzFeed’s Emily Ashton … Laura Wiley … Carrie Seim … Seth Thomas Pietras … Catherine Easley … Diana Doukas … Jessica Medeiros Garrison … Colin Campbell, managing editor at Yahoo News … PBS’ Kristin Lehner … Zubin Sharma … Ron Castleman … Susan Fertig-Dykes … Catherine Fenton … Jodi Sakol, VP of campaign outreach at AARP … Bob Burke … Jon Macks (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … Samir Arora