A QUICK REALITY CHECK … PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP tweeted this — in part — on Christmas: “Why should Crazy Nancy Pelosi, just because she has a slight majority in the House, be allowed to Impeach the President of the United States?”
WELL, DEFINE “slight.” Speaker NANCY PELOSI started out this Congress with a 36-seat majority — which is the fifth-largest of all majorities since the 105th Congress, in 1997-1999. PELOSI had the largest majority in the last decade — 79 seats — which came just after BARACK OBAMA won the White House, between 2009 and 2011. The smallest majority was seven seats, between 2001 and 2003. Republicans held a 19-seat majority when they impeached BILL CLINTON.
IT’S POSSIBLE that Trump has never fundamentally understood the power shift in Washington brought about by the 2018 midterms. He went from dealing with an all-Republican Congress to having to fend off a ferocious Democratic majority in the House that has largely held together despite its geographic and ideological diversity. That is one reason, perhaps, that he finds himself impeached heading into 2020.
ALSO: This missive from TRUMP came after this presidential message: “Together, we must strive to foster a culture of deeper understanding and respect—traits that exemplify the teachings of Christ.”
IN CASE SAN FRANCISCO DEMS ARE LOOKING FOR TRUMP’S ADVICE, @realDonaldTrump this morning: “‘Nancy Pelosi has no leverage over the Senate. Mitch McConnell did not nose his way into the impeachment process in the House, and she has no standing in the Senate.’ Brad Blakeman. Crazy Nancy should clean up her filthy dirty District & help the homeless there. A primary for N?”
— FOR THE RECORD: California does not have traditional primaries. It has a “jungle primary,” in which both parties participate, and the top two vote-getters face off in the general election. In 2018, PELOSI got 68.5% in a seven-candidate jungle primary field — the next highest vote-getter got 9.1%. She won the general election with 86.8%.
A PEEK UNDER THE HOOD … NYT, A1 … ERIC LIPTON and STEVE EDER: “For Trump Organization, Office Skyscrapers Make Up for Lagging Hotels”: “With hotel expansion plans thwarted, marquee hotels in New York, Panama and Toronto stripped of the Trump name, and revenues lagging or relatively flat at properties like Doral, rising rent collections at office and commercial properties have provided the Trump Organization a sorely needed boost.
“Revenues at office towers on Sixth Avenue in Midtown, on Wall Street in downtown Manhattan and at a third building in San Francisco — cities that are centers of political opposition to the president — have each jumped during Mr. Trump’s tenure in the White House, outperforming the family’s much better recognized assets like Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York, financial filings show. ‘Our office buildings are killing it,’ Eric Trump said in an interview. ‘It is under appreciated.’” NYT
BIG POLITICO MAG INVESTIGATION — “How Close Did Russia Really Come to Hacking the 2016 Election?” by Kim Zetter: “Government reports indicate a Florida election technology company was hacked in 2016. There’s plenty the public doesn’t know about the incident—but should—going into 2020.”
— WAPO: “U.S. Cybercom contemplates information warfare to counter Russian interference in 2020 election,” by Ellen Nakashima: “Military cyber officials are developing information warfare tactics that could be deployed against senior Russian officials and oligarchs if Moscow tries to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections through hacking election systems or sowing widespread discord, according to current and former U.S. officials.
“One option being explored by U.S. Cyber Command would target senior leadership and Russian elites, though probably not President Vladimir Putin, which would be considered too provocative, said the current and former officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity. The idea would be to show that the target’s sensitive personal data could be hit if the interference did not stop, though officials declined to be more specific.” WaPo
— “Election officials learn military mindset ahead of 2020 vote,” by AP’s Christina Cassidy
Good Thursday morning. Happy Boxing Day.
FLAGGING FOR STEPHEN MILLER AND CO. — L.A. TIMES: “Seeing a Central American surge, Mexicans join the asylum line at the U.S. border,” by Patrick McDonald in Matamoros, Mexico: “Word about Central Americans and others gaining U.S. footholds via the asylum process has spread to violence-racked areas of Mexico, prompting many to head north to border towns, from Matamoros on the Gulf of Mexico to Tijuana on the Pacific.
“‘First we heard about the caravans, then we heard that the Central Americans were getting asylum in the United States,’ said José Antonio Mendoza, 28, another asylum hopeful here from Guerrero, the western Mexican state where Acapulco is also situated. ‘And then we heard that asylum was also a possibility for Mexicans.’ Mendoza has been waiting here for two months with his wife and two children, ages 3 and 7.” LAT
A USEFUL UPDATE ON THE GOVERNMENT, via WaPo’s Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe: “The new Russia adviser at the White House — the third in just six months — has no meaningful background on the subject. The only expert on Ukraine has never spoken with President Trump, only been mocked by him publicly.
“The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv will soon be without its highest-ranking diplomat for the second time in a year, as another ambassador departs after being undermined by the U.S. president and his personal attorney.
“The CIA analyst who triggered the impeachment inquiry continues to work on issues relating to Russia and Ukraine, but when threats against him spike — often seemingly spurred by presidential tweets — he is driven to and from work by armed security officers.
“Having been impeached by the House, Trump faces trial in the Senate on charges that he abused the power of his office and sought to obstruct Congress. But the jarring developments over the past three months have also exposed the extent to which the national security establishment and the values that have traditionally guided American foreign policy are facing an extraordinary trial of their own under Trump’s presidency.” WaPo
HMM … “Murkowski ‘disturbed’ by McConnell’s vow for ‘total coordination’ with White House for impeachment trial,” by KTUU’s Sean Maguire: “‘And in fairness, when I heard that I was disturbed,’ Murkowski said before describing that there should be distance between the White House and the Senate in how the trial is conducted. ‘To me it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense, and so I heard what leader McConnell had said, I happened to think that that has further confused the process.’
“Murkowski was critical of the impeachment process conducted in the House of Representatives that she describes as rushed. … She says the Senate is now being asked to cure deficiencies in the evidence that will be presented at the trial, particularly when it comes to whether key witnesses should be brought forward to testify … Murkowski remains undecided how she would vote when the trial takes place.” KTUU
— WHAT TO MAKE OF THIS? It’s tough to tell. If Murkowski is, indeed, disturbed by McConnell’s words, does that mean she will build a coalition and block the rules for impeachment? Does she believe TRUMP should be removed from office? We need to see how this will translate into action to fully understand the implications.
DOUG LETTER PROFILE … WAPO: “In court, he speaks for Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” by Ann Marimow: “After a 40-year career at the Justice Department, defending policies of presidential administrations from both parties, Letter now speaks for the speaker in courtrooms throughout the country while advising House leaders on impeachment. …
“With his small team of lawyers, Letter is locked in pitched battles with the Trump administration, which has vowed to fight all congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony — and resisted cooperating with House impeachment proceedings. As general counsel to the House, Letter has a hand in an outsize number of fast-moving legal fights between Congress and the president. …
“Letter, 66, sleeps only four hours on a typical night, according to friends and former colleagues. When he’s not in court or crafting legal filings, he briefs Democrats on strategy and advises House leaders on impeachment. He talks frequently with Pelosi in meetings, by phone or in texts, with messages that also touch on a shared affinity for sports teams from the Bay Area, where Letter grew up.” WaPo
2020 WATCH …
— “Democrats seize on anti-Obamacare ruling to steamroll GOP in 2020,” by Alice Miranda Ollstein and James Arkin: “A court ruling last week putting the Affordable Care Act further in jeopardy may provide the opening Democrats have been waiting for to regain the upper hand on health care against Republicans in 2020.
“At the most recent Democratic presidential debate, candidates largely avoided discussing the lawsuit or Republicans’ years-long efforts to dismantle Obamacare, and instead continued their intra-party battle over Medicare for All.
“But Senate Democrats, Democratic candidates and outside groups backing them immediately jumped on the news of the federal appeals court ruling — blasting out ads and statements reminding voters of Republicans’ votes to repeal the 2010 health care law, support the lawsuit and confirm the judges who may bring about Obamacare’s demise.” POLITICO
— BUTTIGIEG POLICY X-RAY … WAPO: “Buttigieg health plan hinges on ‘supercharged’ version of unpopular Obamacare mandate,” by Jeff Stein and Chelsea Janes: “Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg sells his health-care plan as a moderate alternative to Medicare-for-all — offering a government-sponsored plan to those who want it while letting others keep their private and employer-sponsored insurance.
“But the South Bend, Ind., mayor’s plan has a catch: If you choose not to enroll in any coverage, you could still be on the hook for thousands of dollars. Under Buttigieg’s proposal, Americans who lack coverage would be automatically enrolled in the government plan, potentially saddling them with a big bill at the end of the year for ‘retroactive’ coverage.
“Buttigieg’s campaign has said the proposal will ensure the candidate’s promise of universal health coverage — without eliminating private insurance, as some of his more liberal opponents have proposed.
“But critics say the policy represents an expanded version of one of the least popular aspects of President Obama’s 2010 health-care law: the individual mandate, which fined Americans for not having health insurance. The mandate was repealed by the 2017 Republican tax law and ruled unconstitutional last week by an appeals court. None of the other leading Democratic hopefuls have reprised it as part of their health-care plans.” WaPo
— NYT’S KATIE GLUECK in Creston, Iowa: “The ‘But I Would Vote for Joe Biden’ Republicans”: “The voters at campaign events for Joseph R. Biden Jr. here in Iowa and across the country aren’t just shopping for a candidate for themselves.
“As they jostle to take pictures with the former vice president and listen to him preach about national unity, they are often thinking about someone else — a dad, a neighbor or a colleague. They consider the political leanings of people close to them who are uncomfortable with the most liberal presidential contenders, but who hate the chaos of the Trump era and are receptive to the kind of centrist, seasoned candidacy Mr. Biden offers.
“Some Democrats have been warning the party not to obsess over these potential swing voters, arguing that electability calculations about mythical undecided moderates are futile at this moment of extreme political polarization. But for many Biden supporters, those voters are their Republican-leaning relatives and friends. And their perspectives are an increasingly prominent consideration as the Iowa caucuses near.”
TRUMP’S THURSDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule today.
HAPPENING TODAY — “Netanyahu’s Survival Is Tested as Likud Party Holds Leadership Vote,” by NYT’s Isabel Kershner in Jerusalem: “With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political future on the line — and possibly Israel’s — members of his conservative Likud party voted Thursday on whether to stick with their scandal-scarred leader or replace him ahead of a general election in March.
“Mr. Netanyahu, who was indicted last month on corruption charges including bribery, was widely expected to prevail over his challenger, Gideon Saar, a seasoned but less popular party veteran. Even so, this is the most serious challenge to the prime minister’s party leadership since 2005, and fears of a low turnout on a day of bad weather made the outcome harder to predict.
“The result of the vote, expected to be known early Friday, will determine whether Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, will lead Likud into the country’s third parliamentary election in less than a year.” NYT
— POLITICAL CHAOS IN IRAQ … THE NATIONAL: “Iraq president Barham Salih offers to step down amid protests”: “Iraqi President Barham Salih has handed his resignation to parliament after refusing to endorse a nominee for the prime ministership from an Iran backed political group.
“He said that he would rather step down than pick a new prime minister rejected by demonstrators but as the constitution does not allow him to reject a nomination he would resign. Parliament will now have to meet to discuss and vote on the resignation. If they endorse the move, Mr Salih will step down.
“Parliament’s Binaa bloc on Wednesday nominated Assad Al Eidani, the governor of Basra and a former minister of youth and sports. The alliance is led by Iranian-backed politician Hadi Al Amiri.” The National
CRACKDOWN IN MOSCOW — “Russian authorities raid Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s Moscow office,” by Reuters’ Andrew Osborn and Anastasia Teterevleva: “Russian authorities raided the Moscow headquarters of opposition politician Alexei Navalny on Thursday, using power tools to gain entry before dragging Navalny out by force and confiscating technical equipment such as laptops.
“Navalny and his allies said the raid on his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) was carried out by the Federal Bailiffs Service and was connected to his refusal to delete a video investigation which leveled graft allegations against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and billionaire businessman Alisher Usmanov.” Reuters
— EARLIER … WSJ: “In a Big Shift, Russians Take to the Streets Over Everyday Complaints”
FOR YOUR RADAR — REUTERS/BEIJING: “China, Russia, Iran to hold joint naval drills starting Friday”: “China, Iran and Russia will hold joint naval drills starting on Friday in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman, China’s defense ministry said on Thursday，amid heightened tension in the region between Iran and the United States.
“China will send the Xining, a guided missile destroyer, to the drills, which will last until Monday, and are meant to deepen cooperation between the three countries’ navies, ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a monthly news briefing.” Reuters
L.A. TIMES: “Americans are retiring to Vietnam, for cheap healthcare and a decent living standard,” by Ralph Jennings
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BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Matthew Verghese, deputy COS and communications director for Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.). How he’s celebrating: “I’ve come to love having my birthday right after Christmas because every year I get a chance to go home to Maryland and celebrate with family and friends new and old. … Luckily, my boss — Congressman Brown — is letting me skip staffing him when he presides over the pro-forma session this morning. Last year he had an interview on ‘Morning Joe’ at 7 a.m. on the government shutdown, which was far too early a start for my birthday.” Playbook Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: DoD’s Jonathan Hoffman … DOJ’s Mary Blanche Hankey … Katie Fallon, Hilton’s global head of corporate affairs … Candy Crowley … Mike Hammer, U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (h/t Ben Chang) … Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities … Noelle Troost … Eloy Martinez, senior director of government relations at the American Gaming Association … Natasha Walsh … Andrew Weber … Noa Meyer … former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) is 64 … David Sedaris is 63 … Kristin Davison … Scott Shepard … former California Gov. Gray Davis is 77 … Alex Zuckerman, senior coordinating editor at Newsy … Alison Moore … Peter Segall …
… Joe Maloney, partner at Locust Street Group, is 4-0 … Georgiana Cavendish … Ron Parker (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … Dan Drew … William Gordon … Bullpen Strategy Group’s Alex Angel … Emily Cyr, associate producer for “Firing Line with Margaret Hoover” … Nate Baker … Amelia Colton … Sally Fox … Jeff Quinton … Matt Neufeld is 58 … Jeremy Broggi … Synim Rivers … Cole Henry is 33 … Charlie Summers is 6-0 … POLITICO Europe’s Clémence Vatier … Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe … Rob Pyron … Joe Mosby … Jane Song … Ellen Field … Will Heyniger is 57 … Dave Nieuwstraten … Jennifer Duck … Sarada Peri … Scott Lear … Joe Deoudes … Jill Cooper Udall … Holly Shannon … Jon Henke … Bishop Garrison