Donald Trump becomes president one week from today. The forecast says it will be 56 degrees on Inauguartion Day with a chance of morning showers. Happy Friday the 13th.
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“President Obama’s farewell address in Chicago on Tuesday night was less a recitation of accomplishments than a reassurance of future stability — a vote of confidence and calm for a party still reeling from the results of an election that threaten to undermine what many Democrats spent the past eight years building.” (Chicago Trib)
“I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic than when I started,” Obama told thousands of supporters gathered in his adopted hometown. “You changed the world. You did.”
Check it out … “Biden Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom” No dry eyes, guaranteed..
If it sounds like an unusually chaotic week for Congress, that’s because it is. The number of back-to-back confirmation hearings being rushed through means things like background checks and ethics reviews of some of the candidates are falling through the cracks. And that’s not actually how confirmation hearings usually work. LATEST TO DISAGREE WITH TRUMP, HIS CABINET NOMINEES NYTs “America should not torture. Russia is a menace. A wall at the Mexican border would not be effective. A blanket ban against Muslims is wrong. Climate change is a threat. Those statements are in direct opposition to some of the most significant declarations that President-elect Donald J. Trump made before his improbable ascension to the White House. They are also the words of his own nominees to lead the nation’s most important government agencies. In their first week of grilling before congressional panels, Mr. Trump’s cabinet nominees broke with him on almost every major policy that has put Mr. Trump outside Republican orthodoxy, particularly in the area of national security. … Transition officials said they were unconcerned by the differences. Sean Spicer, who will be the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Trump had chosen people for their expertise, not their ability to parrot his own positions.”
Some realllllyyy long days … here are a few of the names you’ll need to know…
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)…as in Trump’s pick for attorney general. He’s a longtime senator and was a US attorney for Alabama for over a decade. And, like Trump, he’s tough on immigration. The Senate’s already rejected him once. Back in the 80s, he was denied from becoming a federal judge after he was accused of making racist comments. This time, at least one of his colleagues, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), doesn’t think Sessions should get the job. Booker will be the first current senator to testify against another senator during a confirmation hearing. A VOTE ON HIS NOMINATION will likely come shortly after next week’s inauguration of Trump. Sessions needs 51 votes to be confirmed; there are 52 Republican Senators, 46 Democrats and 2 independents. Barring a highly unlikely GOP turnaround, Sessions has the votes to be confirmed even if no moderate Democrats or independents support his nomination.
WHAT WE LEARNED AND DIDN’T ABOUT JEFF SESSION AT HIS CONFIRMATION HEARING (FiveThirtyEight) in this week’s confirmation hearings, the senators were tasked specifically with evaluating his suitability to serve as the nation’s top law enforcer, not to evaluate his record as a lawmaker. … To that end, Democratic senators repeatedly asked Sessions whether he’d enforce laws, including ones he didn’t agree with and didn’t vote for. And in a marathon Tuesday hearing, Sessions consistently said “yes”: If something is the law of the land, it will be his job as attorney general to enforce it, whatever his views and whatever Trump’s. Notably, Sessions said that as attorney general, he would oppose torture, a ban on Muslims entering the country and a Muslim registry, three things for which Trump has at times expressed support. In reality, though, attorneys general prioritize some areas of enforcement. So to the extent that the hearings revealed Sessions’s policy priorities, that should tell us something about how the Justice Department will function for the next four years. (Sessions, who is from Alabama, is highly likely to be confirmed, judging by the tepid nature of criticism from some Democrats on the committee.) Here’s a quick roundup of what we learned — and didn’t — about Sessions’s record and views on some crucial criminal-justice issues CLICK HERE FOR ARTICLE
Rex Tillerson…as in Trump’s pick for sec. of state. He’s had the top job at ExxonMobil for about a decade and has done business around the world. Including in Russia, where Tillerson once picked up a friendship award from Russian President Vladimir Putin after inking a major deal there. As America’s top diplomat, he’d need to deal with Putin in a less friendly way on crises like the ones in Syria and Ukraine. And the Senate had some questions on that.
RUBIO’S CHOICE: BUCK TRUMP OR BACK DOWN ON TILLERSON? Politico “Rex Tillerson’s secretary of state confirmation hearing has gotten off to a rocky start, with Florida Republican Marco Rubio declaring some of his answers about Russia “troubling,” as Democrats hammered him on everything from climate change to potential ethics problems for the former ExxonMobil CEO. Despite those testy back-and-forths, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.) declared that the hearing was “going well” during a break in the proceedings. Some key moments: Politico “Marco Rubio got tough with Rex Tillerson. Now he has to decide if he’s willing to take on Donald Trump, too. The Florida senator produced quite a fireworks show this week with his grilling of a seemingly rattled Tillerson at his confirmation hearing for secretary of state. But opposing Tillerson on the Senate floor – and antagonizing Trump, whom Rubio was dismissing as a ‘con man’ around this time a year ago, before eventually endorsing him – is another thing entirely. Intentionally or not, Rubio is out on a limb after demanding denouncements of Russia and other authoritarian countries that Tillerson refused to offer. GOP leaders believe the former ExxonMobil CEO remains a solid bet for confirmation with or without Rubio’s support, but the Florida senator is being watched especially closely because he’s seen as a proxy for other GOP hawks. For now, he’s keeping everyone in suspense.”
HOUSE SET TO FINISH OFF MATTIS WAIVER MorningD “Lawmakers are dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on the waiver needed for President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, to take the top Pentagon job. MATTIS SAILS THROUGH SENATE HEARING James Mattis is the one Donald Trump Cabinet pick whom Democrats could unilaterally block. Instead, they made clear Thursday their resounding support for the retired Marine Corps general, touting him as their best hope for reining in a president-elect who has unorthodox views on matters of war and peace.
Breaking with Trump on Russia: Mattis labeled Russia a “strategic competitor,” putting him at odds with the president-elect’s more favorable comments.
Women in combat: Pressed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on his previous statements opposing women in combat, Mattis indicated he doesn’t plan to undo the 2015 decision, though he didn’t completely shut the door on potential changes.
Backing the Iran deal: Mattis reportedly fell out of favor with the Obama administration after urging a harder line on Iran, but he told senators Thursday he believed the U.S. should stick with the Iranian nuclear deal.
A “dollar-for-dollar” budget approach: Mattis says that future budget agreements don’t necessarily have to include equal increases in domestic spending to match defense spending. Asked in an advance questionnaire if he believes “any future budget agreements must maintain that dollar-for-dollar principle,” Mattis responded he doesn’t.
Modernization, budget choices: Mattis wants to upgrade aging ships, aircraft and nuclear assets at a faster rate, while pledging to revamp the Pentagon’s cumbersome acquisition process.
Trump’s F-35 tweeting “shows he is serious” about costs: Mattis told Congress he would not speak on Trump’s social media attacks on the F-35 and Air Force One programs.
NOTHING TO SEE HERE FOLKS Politico ‘Key Senate committee won’t probe possible Trump-Russia collusion’ “… Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell … has rejected calls for a select committee with a broad mandate to investigate the issue, or an independent commission with subpoena power. The Kentucky Republican has instead ordered individual Senate committees to run their own separate investigations within the confines of their committee jurisdictions.”
QUESTIONS GET TOUGH, TRUMP CAN DEPEND ON BREITBART The Fix “Donald Trump’s first news conference in 168 days was not going so well. The president-elect’s early tone toward the media had been civil … but now, almost an hour in, his mood was darkening. He had just engaged in a testy back-and-forth with CNN’s Jim Acosta and cut off a BBC reporter who tried to ask a question about Russia. It was time to steer the proceedings into more favorable territory. Trump knew exactly what to do. He called on Breitbart News’s Washington editor, Matt Boyle.
“With CNN’s decision to publish fake news,” Boyle began, “and all the problems that we’ve seen throughout the media over the course of the election, what reforms do you recommend for this industry here?”
The gag-inducing question set up Trump for one of his trademark media smackdowns. JUST A REMINDER Breitbart was Trump’s No. 1 cheerleader during the campaign. It seems likely that the hard-right website will function as a propaganda arm of the Trump White House. After Wednesday’s news conference, it looks as if Breitbart could be something else, too: a lifeline when Trump or his aides are in a bind when cameras are rolling. Imagine future White House press secretary Sean Spicer looking to Boyle for a bailout during his daily briefings. Whenever the line of questioning gets tough, Breitbart could turn down the heat with an inquiry about just how big and beautiful the “great wall” will be or how untrustworthy the rest of the media really is. Trump’s team could even reserve a front-row seat for Breitbart, just to make sure the safety valve is easy to find. WAIT… That’s exactly what it did on Wednesday, according to the AP:
More than 250 journalists packed Trump Tower for the celebrity businessman’s first full-fledged news conference since July, which was billed as a forum to discuss his separation from his business but quickly turned into a loud, wide-ranging free-for-all about U.S. intelligence, Russian hacking and, eventually, some of Trump’s policy plans after he takes office on Jan. 20.
Only one seat was saved by a Republican National Committee aide, a front-row spot for a reporter from Breitbart, the conservative news outlet until recently run by Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon. Other reporters scrambled to save their seats.
Bannon told the Wall Street Journal after Election Day that he has had “nothing to do with the site” since he joined Trump’s campaign in August.”
WHY MANY JOURNALISTS ARE MAD AT BUZZFEED TheFix “Donald Trump on Wednesday slammed BuzzFeed for publishing a 35-page document full of unverified claims about a Russian effort to compromise him, and the growing consensus among journalists is that the president-elect had a point. For many in the media, validating one of Trump’s attacks is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable thing to do. The billionaire’s complaints about press coverage are so frequent — and typically so unfair — that reporters often feel compelled to defend each other’s work, as if protecting the reputation of their entire profession. Many journalists tweeted support for CNN and Jim Acosta on Wednesday, after a news conference scrap that ended with Trump calling Acosta and his network “fake news.”
At Wednesday’s news conference, Trump actually thanked many news outlets for being “so incredibly professional” in handling the unconfirmed details contained in the document published by BuzzFeed. Even he seemed to recognize and appreciate the restraint exercised by most of the press. But Trump seldom hesitates to cherry-pick one example that fits his overarching narrative. And his narrative is that the media is shamefully biased against him and unworthy of public confidence.”
3-STEP PLAN TO KILL HEALTH INSURANCE Wired “AFTER AN ALL-NIGHT VOTE-A-RAMA the Senate today took its first real legislative tugs at unraveling the Affordable Care Act— the healthcare law that currently provides insurance to more than 20 million people who didn’t have it before. Passing early this morning with a vote of 51 to 48, the budget resolution is the opening move in a three-part process to repeal and replace the ACA. It is not, as some congressional Republicans would lead you to believe, now a done deal. A full-blown repeal is still far from over, with many opportunities to fizzle out or get derailed in the process.
But with Republicans using a budgetary loophole to finally get the repeal they’ve always wanted, it can be hard to know exactly where things stand. So here’s a quick guide to how the repeal process is going to go down. Probably.
STEP 1 (COMPLETED) : BUDGET RESOLUTION This is what the Senate voted on Wednesday. It’s not a special piece of legislation: Congress passes a budget resolution every year. Because it’s not a law, it’s not something the President has to sign; it’s just a road map for how much the federal government should spend in the upcoming year. But this year’s is a little different. Written into the resolution is a section called a “reconciliation directive,” which instructs the four committees that oversee the federal health care program (two in the House and two in the Senate) to draw up a plan for reducing its toll on the federal budget deficit, i.e. how to stop paying for health insurance.
Why, you might ask? Because while Republicans face an uphill battle to pass a law that makes significant, non-spending related changes to our nation’s healthcare system (that kind of bill would be subject to a Democratic filibuster, which would take 60 votes to overcome, while Republicans only have 52 Senate seats), they can instead just cut federal spending for the program with only 51 votes, using a budget reconciliation. And what’s the first step to budget reconciliation? Budget resolution.
That’s where they are now. Once both houses of Congress pass the budget resolution with language on how to lower the deficit via defunding health insurance the House did so today), it sends these reconciliation directives to the committees of jurisdiction to start drafting the language of a repeal bill. So while today’s vote doesn’t immediately change anything, the important thing is it ensures that any repeal bill those committees write in the future will be immune to a filibuster, if and when it is completed.
STEP 2: BUDGET RECONCILIATION So when might that be? The current deadline is January 27, after amendments to delay this process were withdrawn Wednesday, but it’s not an enforceable (nor a realistic) due date. In all likelihood, discussion over what parts of ACA should be cut will take longer than a few weeks. And again, we’re only talking about parts of the law that involve the federal budget. First on the chopping block will likely be the individual mandate and the expansion of Medicaid. But things like parental insurance coverage up to the age of 26 can’t be touched yet. That’s step three.
Before that can happen though, the committees have to send their plans to the budget committee, which will combine them into one big proposal—the budget reconciliation. This will then go up for a vote in both houses of Congress. If the Senate gets its 51 votes and the House gets its simple majority, the reconciliation will pass. Only then will the parts of the ACA detailed within be repealed. The rest of it will have to be disassembled, possibly piecemeal, with bipartisan support.
STEP 3: THE STILL-TO-BE-ANNOUNCED PLAN TO REPLACE A few weeks ago, this is where the Republican plan stopped. Their goal was to repeal the ACA by the time President-elect Donald Trump took his oath of office on January 20, and deal with the replace part later. But concerns over the chaos that a “repeal and delay” situation might set loose on the insurance marketplace have pressured congressional leadership to revise their timeline. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that “it is our goal to bring it all together concurrently,” though he also admitted Republicans have yet to agree on the specifics of their alternative.
But while top Republicans continue to shy away from presenting a concrete replacement plan, President-elect Donald Trump seemed to announce at his press conference yesterday that he has a plan of his own—one that he says he will be releasing as soon as his pick for Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, is confirmed by the Senate. Price’s first hearings could happen as soon as January 18. While Trump appeared to suggest the plan would come from his administration, and not Congress, a transition spokesman later told CNN that he couldn’t confirm this.
Trump was unequivocal that an ACA replacement would happen simultaneously, “probably the same day, could be the same hour,” as a repeal. But with no power to force Democrats to give a replacement bill the 60 votes it would need to pass, it’s unclear how the President-elect can possibly uphold this guarantee. Technically, his only formal role in the process will be to sign (or veto) whatever makes it through Congress and onto his desk. And while Trump has historically not been one to get hung up on technicalities, if the Democrats fight back as hard as they’ve promised to, this may be his first lesson in Separation of Powers 101.
vote-a-rama: (n) an extended sequence of back-to-back votes in the United States Senate. A side effect of special rules for considering the budget resolution or a reconciliation bill, a vote-a-rama may last 10, 20, 30 hours or more, and occurs after all time for debate has expired but before a vote on final passage.(Keith Hennessey) These all-night vote-fests allow senators to propose unlimited amendments. The passage of the resolution kicks off the budget reconciliation process. That process is special because a reconciliation measure cannot be filibustered, meaning it allows the Senate to pass a bill with a simple majority (as opposed to needing 60 votes to overcome a filibuster). That’s good for Republicans, who hold 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats.
DEMS TRY TO SEND THEIR OWN MESSAGES Using the vote-a-rama to get Republicans on the record about what may come next. That plan consisted of proposing amendment after amendment to force Republicans to vote on Medicaid expansion, funding for rural hospitals, women’s access to health care and other popular programs. Democrats know this is a train they can’t stop. As the night drew to a close, all they could do was stage a protest.
GOP GOVS FIGHT TO PROTECT OWN Politico “Republican governors who reaped the benefits of Obamacare now find themselves in an untenable position — fighting GOP lawmakers in Washington to protect their states’ health coverage. This rift between state and federal GOP officials is the real battle on Obamacare at a time when Democrats have only marginal power in Congress. … Trump’s push comes as at least five of the 16 Republican governors of states that took federal money to expand Medicaid are advocating to keep it or warning GOP leaders of disastrous consequences if the law is repealed without a replacement that keeps millions of people covered. They include Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.And more Republican governors may join with a Friday deadline to submit written proposals to Republican leadership on the Hill. … “We are now able to provide health insurance to 700,000 people,” said Ohio’s Kasich, who circumvented his state Legislature to enact expansion in 2013 and who was the sole GOP presidential candidate in 2016 to defend that portion of Obamacare. “What happens to the 700,000 people? What happens to drug treatment? What happens to mental health counseling? What happens to these people who have very high cholesterol and are victims from a heart attack? What happens to them?”
MEETING WITH RFK Jr. HAS SCIENTISTS WORRIED Politico Magazine “Of all Donald Trump’s conspiratorial obsessions, perhaps one of the most dangerous has been his long promotion of the much-debunked theory that vaccines cause autism. Each time his beliefs have come up, journalists and the medical and scientific community have dutifully noted that Trump is wrong—the evidence clearly shows no link between vaccines and autism. Now, Trump is going to be the president of the United States, and doctors and scientists are raising the alarm about the potential consequences of having a man in charge of the country’s public health system who dabbles in discredited scientific theories. Those concerns only grew on Tuesday, when Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer who has long been immersed in those discredited theories. Kennedy told reporters at Trump Tower that he was responding to a summons by the president-elect. His goal in meeting with Trump, he said, was “to make sure we have scientific integrity in the vaccine process for efficacy and safety of vaccines.”
For those not steeped in the language of vaccine debates, Kennedy was using a familiar canard: that he’s not anti-vaccine, but rather pro-vaccine safety. FULL ARTICLE
WHAT ELSE? theSkimm “Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s being tapped to serve as one of Trump’s senior advisers. Many are saying ‘problem,’ since an anti-nepotism law from the 60s makes it illegal for a president to give family members jobs in their administration. Team Trump says the law doesn’t necessarily apply to White House jobs. Kushner has said he’d step down as CEO of his family’s real-estate business. He’s expected to sell off all of his foreign investments and some other assets to avoid conflicts of interest.”
HOW TO EXPLAIN THIS TO THE KIDS “Monica Crowley, President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s pick for a top National Security Council job, plagiarized numerous passages in her Ph.D. dissertation, Politico Magazine has found. An examination of the dissertation and the sources it cites identified around more than a dozen sections of text that have been lifted, with little to no changes, from other scholarly works without proper attribution. In some instances, Crowley footnoted her source but did not identify with quotation marks the text she was copying directly. In other instances, she copied text or heavily paraphrased with no attribution at all. This finding comes on the heels of CNN’s Saturday report [by Andrew Kaczynski] that Crowley plagiarized more than 50 passages in her 2012 book ‘What the (Bleep) Just Happened,’ copying directly from conservative columns, news articles, Wikipedia and in one case a podiatrist’s website.”
GHOST OF EMAILS PAST theSkimm “Yesterday, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog said it’s going to investigate how the FBI handled its investigation into Clinton’s emails. Reminder: way before the election, the FBI looked into whether Clinton mishandled classified info while using a private email server as sec. of state. At first, FBI Director James Comey passed on recommending any charges against her. Then, in the last days of the presidential campaign, he said ‘hold up, we might’ve found more evidence.’ The FBI looked into it…and cleared Clinton. Again. But it drew negative attention to her just before voters went to the polls. And Comey got A LOT of questions about whether he violated a Justice Dept. policy of not doing anything that could be seen as politically motivated. IS THAT ALL? Nope. Since last year, unverified docs about President-elect Donald Trump have been quietly going around DC. They allege that his team was communicating with Russia, and that Russia could have some verrryyy compromising info on him. These docs were published online earlier this week. But back in October, then-Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called out Comey for drawing new attention to Clinton’s emails, while not releasing info on Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. No one knew exactly what Reid was referring to at the time. Now, some people think he had these docs in mind. SO WHAT’S THE LATEST? Tables, turned. The FBI is the one getting investigated for how it handled Clinton’s case. This internal watchdog is also looking into a few other things – like whether a FBI deputy director with personal ties to the Dems should’ve bowed out of the Clinton investigation. A new president is being sworn into office in a week. But the country is still obsessing over the very unusual series of events that may have helped him win the election.”
SHOT: BUSINESS BURST — “Amazon to Create 100,000 New Jobs in U.S. in Next 18 Months,” Bloomberg “The staffing up isn’t particularly surprising for a company moving into multiple categories from groceries, hardware and video to fashion and cloud services. But the move could appease Trump, who tangled with Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos during the election campaign.” CHASER “Jeff Bezos is the anonymous buyer of the biggest house in Washington,” WaPo “Amazon founder and WaPo owner Jeffrey P. Bezos has bought the former Textile Museum, a 27,000 square-foot property, intending to convert it into a single-family home … Bezos’s neighbors will include President Obama and his family, who are renting a property nearby for their post-White House home, as well as future first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, incoming presidential adviser Jared Kushner. The home – the largest in Washington – sold Oct. 21 for $23 million in cash (a million over its list price).”