The Washington Report is BACK. And baby, at least in Milwaukee, it’s cold outside. And the political temperature in Washington, DC, well …
Obama’s final monthly job report is out and the unemployment rate is at the lowest level to end a year since 2006, with the economy adding 2.2 million jobs last year . The jobless rate peaked at 10% in October of Obama’s first year in office, now stands at 4.7% … overall, the economy has added jobs for 75 straight months, the longest streak since 1939 (from The Hill ).
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CONGRESS IS BACK … and the inauguration is in 15 days. With the GOP leading both chambers and President-elect Donald Trump in the White House, Republicans’ New Year’s resolutions include repealing Obamacare and rolling back regulations. Cheat Sheet in what to watch for …How quickly will Republicans vote to repeal the health insurance law? How will Democrats handle Mr. Trump’s nominees? Can crumbling bridges unite Democrats and Republicans? What will become of Mr. Trump’s border wall? What kind of opponent will the new Senate Democratic leader (Chuck Schumer – NY) be? What kind of ally will House Speaker Paul Ryan be? (Keep Reading)
McCAIN AND GRAHAM vs.TRUMP AND PUTIN MorningD “John McCain and Lindsey Graham have spent the past eight years chiding President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, sarcastically calling the president naïve when it comes to world affairs and regularly grilling his Cabinet members at congressional hearings. Now, it’s Donald Trump’s turn to be the target. EXTRAORDINARY CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS The Fix “Pretty much ignoring President-elect Donald Trump’s wishes, hawkish Senate Republicans wasted no time publicly digging into Russia’s alleged hacking of the U.S. presidential race.In their first week back in Congress, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, invited the nation’s top intelligence leaders to testify about “foreign cyberthreats” — how Russia tried to influence the 2016 campaign, and what the United States should do about it.The lineup at Thursday’s committee hearing included: Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr, Adm. Mike Rogers, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency Marcel J. Lettre II, Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence. Takeaways:
1. Intelligence officials think Russians definitely meddled in the U.S. campaign.
2. Russia’s leaders authorized some of the hacking.
3. There’s no way to know the electoral effect of Russia’s supposed meddling.
4. Intelligence leaders feel the need to defend themselves from attacks like Trump’s. The quote that will probably make the most headlines from this hearing comes from Clapper, who said that skepticism of intelligence is healthy (“the intelligence community is not perfect”) but that “I think there is a difference between skepticism and disparagement.” He went on to say: “I don’t think the intelligence community gets the credit it’s due for what it does day in and day out to keep this nation secure.”
Clapper, nor anyone else testifying at Thursday’s hearing, didn’t directly point fingers at the president elect. But Trump was definitely the elephant in the room.
5. Some Senate Republicans are ready to get tough on Russia, regardless of whether Trump is on board.
6. We’ll know more about what the intelligence community thinks next week. Intelligence officials said they plan to make public sometime next week an unclassified version of a report that Obama and Trump are receiving on Russian interference in the campaign.
(WORTH NOTING: This is the first Armed Services hearing for Democrat Elizabeth Warren (MA) — whose move to the committee quickly stoked 2020 presidential speculation — as well as Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse, whose opposition to Trump during the campaign also garnered talk of a future presidential bid.)
I SPY THRILLER theSkimm ” So there’s basically everyone – top US intelligence officials, the White House, and even lawmakers who don’t normally agree – saying that Russia interfered with the election and that people should be very very concerned. And then there’s Trump – the incoming president of the US.”
HIGH FIVE WashPo “U.S. intercepts capture senior Russian officials celebrating Trump win” “Senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome. The ebullient reaction among high-ranking Russian officials — including some who U.S. officials believe had knowledge of the country’s cyber campaign to interfere in the U.S. election — contributed to the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow’s efforts were aimed at least in part at helping Trump win the White House.”
TRUMPS INTELLIGENCE OVERHAUL … WHY NOW? The Fix “The Wall Street Journal broke what would seem to be a big story on Wednesday night: According to anonymous sources, President-elect Donald Trump is looking at overhauling our country’s intelligence apparatus by paring back the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and possibly even restructuring the CIA. OVERHAUL? WHAT OVERHAUL? The Trump team is now saying it’s baseless. The timing of this story couldn’t be more conspicuous.
Trump is right in the middle of ramping up his criticism and questioning of the intelligence community’s conclusions about Russia’s alleged hacking of Democrats in an effort to influence the 2016 election. He’s still not granting that Russia did the hacking. And just this week he put the word “intelligence” in quotation marks in a tweet and suggested the intelligence community was out to get him — was scrambling to find proof to back up their preferred theory.
It’s not clear what’s going on here, but the fact that this would come out at this particular juncture in time is too difficult to ignore.
ACKNOWLEDGE WELL ESTABLISHED DC DYNAMICS The first is the tradition of floating plans that may or may not be likely to come to fruition — either to send a message or because they’re trial balloons. One of the Journal’s sources essentially admitted this was a response to what the Trump transition team viewed as politics seeping into the intelligence-gathering process — the same argument some Trump defenders have used to question the intelligence pointing to Russian involvement in the hack. And as they prepared to testify Thursday and brief Trump on Friday on a story line he really doesn’t like — sharing information he may not want to see — intelligence officials got a reminder that, whether he chooses to use it or not, he has the power to make their lives very different/difficult.
The other dynamic is the continuing communication issues and conflicting signals inside Team Trump, where it often seems no one is more surprised by what the president-elect or some of his aides do or say than other senior staffers or surrogates.
Still, Trump Press Secretary Spicer’s denial is pretty full-throated here, which begs the question: Where did this come from? Did someone close to the Trump transition team totally concoct these plans whole-cloth? If so, why? Is this merely a possibility rather than an actual plan?
The fact remains that everything for Trump is negotiable, including within his own mind. Will he one day actually overhaul our intelligence community? Possibly. But if he doesn’t, these leaks came at a very convenient time.
FORMER CIA DIRECTOR WOOLSEY QUITS TRUMP TRANSITION TEAM WashPo “Former CIA director R. James Woolsey Jr., a veteran of four presidential administrations and one of the nation’s leading intelligence experts, resigned Thursday from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team because of growing tensions over Trump’s vision for intelligence agencies. … Woolsey was taken aback by this week’s reports that Trump is considering revamping the country’s intelligence framework, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.
TRUMP WALL TO BECOME BORDER FENCE UPGRADE: USA WILL PAY TPM ” Congressional Republicans and Donald Trump’s transition team are exploring whether they can make good on Trump’s promise of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border without passing a new bill on the topic. Under the evolving plan, the Trump administration would rely on existing legislation authorizing fencing and other technology along the southern border. Congress would be asked to ensure that enough money is appropriated to take additional new steps — but would not pass a stand-alone bill authorizing a big new wall. CNN separately reported that Trump would ask Congress to appropriate US tax payer money to pay for the “wall.”
EARLY UNFORCED GOP ERROR theSkimm “The House GOP said ‘nevermind’ to one of its first actions as part of the new Congress. WHAT HAPPENED? Earlier this week, the House GOP got back from holiday vacay and held a surprise vote to bring the Office of Congressional Ethics under congressional control. That’s the independent watchdog that investigates lawmakers for potential wrongdoing (ex. bribery, corruption). Meaning they voted to put themselves in charge of keeping an eye on themselves. The proposed changes also would have blocked investigators from taking anonymous tips, and kept certain info from being released to the public. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told his caucus it was a bad idea. They voted for it anyway. WHAT HAPPENED THEN? A LOT of people picked up the phone. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Republicans had made ethics the “first casualty” of the new Congress. Then, President-elect Donald Trump stepped in and scolded his own party, saying they should be focused on issues of “far greater importance.” So yesterday, the House GOP cried ‘uncle.’ They’re backtracking on the plan. Republicans are about to control both Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade. And one of the first things they did was make an unforced error — one that not even the two biggest voices in the party (Trump and Ryan) were on board with.”
HEALTH INSURANCE Politico ” We’re hearing more and more from rank-and-file Republicans that they are afraid they’ll never be able to insure as many people as Obamacare does — and they all, to a person, worry about the steep political consequences. Speaker Paul Ryan when asked about this in yesterday’s press conference: Jake : “Do you believe you’ll be able to insure as many people as are currently insured?” Ryan: “Look, I’m not going to get ahead of our committee process. We’re just beginning to put this together. We haven’t even gotten [budgetary] scores from [the Congressional Budget Office] yet on these things. But let me say this: Can we in this country have a health-care system that gives us access to affordable health care in this country without a costly government takeover and a death spiral which Obamacare is giving us? And the answer is yes. And that is exactly what we intend to deliver on.” COMPARE THAT STATEMENT TO Kellyanne Conway a few days ago: “We don’t want anyone who currently has insurance to not have insurance.” Try to square that circle! Hill Republicans’ catchphrase is “universal access.” FEAR ON THE HILL .. .Several high-ranking members of Congress in both chambers told us they are extremely aware that this is a political minefield, and they’re not quite sure how they’re going to navigate it.”
NO TO REPEAL WITHOUT REPLACE TPM “Only one in five Americans agrees with the current Republican plan of repealing Obamacare without the details of a replacement being worked about, a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found. … According to the survey released Friday, 47% of respondents said lawmakers should not vote on a repeal, 28% would prefer that a repeal vote wait until the details of a replacement planned are announced, and 20% would like to see a repeal vote immediately with replacement details worked out later.
BUDGETARY MANEUVER TO CHANGE NATIONAL POLICY NYTs “After six years of posturing and futile votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in the Senate have started a process to erase the most important provisions of the health reform law with a simple majority. With a narrow 52-to-48 majority in the Senate, Republicans are seeking to evade a Democratic filibuster by instructing congressional committees to draft a budget reconciliation bill to effectively repeal the tax and spending provisions of the ACA., gutting the law and increasing the deficit. The House is expected to easily pass a repeal of the ACA since it has already done so dozens of times.
TAX REFORM: The GOP plan, as of now, is to complete tax reform by August recess, but that could easily slip. The way forward on infrastructure is murkier, at this point. Quite the ambitious year, though.
THANKS HARRY REID The Fix “Trump’s Cabinet picks will begin to parade to Capitol Hill for their confirmation hearings next week. They represent, without question, one of the most conservative Cabinets in modern presidential history. And yet, despite lots of talk from Democrats and their affiliated outside groups, there doesn’t appear — today — to be any Trump Cabinet pick in serious danger of not being confirmed. The reason? Harry Reid.
No, Reid, the longtime senator from Nevada, isn’t in elected office anymore. But it’s a change to filibuster rules — long known as the “nuclear option” — that he pushed through in the fall of 2013 that is likely to allow Trump to get virtually every one of his nominees through the Senate.
For the 40 years before November 2013, a president’s Cabinet picks needed to win the support of 60 senators to advance to a confirmation vote. What that usually meant is that a president needed to pick someone (or someones) who could reasonably expect to peel off some not-insignificant amount of support from the other side of the aisle. Reid, frustrated by a long-standing blockade by Senate Republicans of President Obama’s nominees to federal judgeships, changed all of that. Here’s what happened:
Democrats used a rare parliamentary move to change the rules so that federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of senators, rather than the 60-vote supermajority that has been the standard for nearly four decades.
The immediate rationale for the move was to allow the confirmation of three picks by President Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — the most recent examples of what Democrats have long considered unreasonably partisan obstruction by Republicans.
In the long term, the rule change represents a substantial power shift in a chamber that for more than two centuries has prided itself on affording more rights to the minority party than any other legislative body in the world. Now, a president whose party holds the majority in the Senate is virtually assured of having his nominees approved, with far less opportunity for political obstruction.
Politics is a pendulum. It swings to one side and then, predictably and always, swings back to the other. Reid knew that when he made the decision to invoke the nuclear option. What he didn’t know — and no one knew — is that Donald Trump would run for president. Or that he would win. Or that Republicans would win back the Senate in 2014 and, somewhat miraculously, keep control through the 2016 election. That fact can be traced directly back to that fateful day in November 2013 when Reid damned the torpedoes and pressed the button no previous Senate leader had been willing to press. “The American people believe the Senate is broken, and I believe the American people are right,” Reid said that day. “It’s time to get the Senate working again.” The Senate will be working next week. Just not the way Reid envisioned it.”
THE MOST INTERESTING MAN IN WASHINGTON WashPo “President-elect Donald Trump gets all the headlines. And the few Trump doesn’t get go to House Speaker Paul Ryan. But, for true connoisseurs of Washington politics, it’s a third man — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — who is the one to watch as the 115th Congress kicks into gear. … He will be, for the foreseeable future, the face of the Democratic Party — in Washington and perhaps nationally as well.”
THE 2018 SENATE MAP JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER FOR REPUBLICANS The Fix “No one outside of Nevada noticed, but last week, Sen. Dean Heller (R) announced that he would run for reelection rather than seek the open governorship in 2018. But it was a big deal — not just in Nevada, where Heller is now an early favorite to win, but on a national level where the map (and math) just keeps getting better for Senate Republicans.
Heller was the only one of the eight Republicans up for reelection in 2018 that is in a state that Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential race. Of the other seven states where Republicans are expected to seek reelection, only two — Arizona (Donald Trump +4) and Texas (Trump +9) — were single-digit winning margins for the president-elect. The remaining five states — Mississippi (Trump +18.6), Nebraska (Trump +26), Tennessee (Trump +26), Utah (Trump +18) and Wyoming (Trump +57.6) — are among the most Republican in the country, meaning that even if there was a surprise retirement (Orrin Hatch in Utah, at age 84, for example), it would be almost impossible for Democrats to seriously compete.
By contrast, 10 Democratic senators are running for reelection in states Trump carried last November. Trump won half of those states — Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia — by double digits. That means that 20% of all Democratic seats up in 2018 are in states Trump won by double digits and 40% are in states that the president-elect carried last November.
It’s not just that Democrats have so many vulnerabilities. It’s that Republicans have so few. Heller’s decision doesn’t take the Nevada seat off anyone’s radar. He only won the seat with 46% in 2012. And Democrats have to feel emboldened in the state after winning the open seat of now-retired Nevada senator Harry Reid (D) in 2016. But Heller represents, by far, Republicans’ best chance of holding the seat in fall 2018. And having to beat an incumbent rather than run for an open seat may scare away some of the stronger Democratic candidates.
In Arizona, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s biggest problem at the moment may well be in a GOP primary — given that he was an outspoken voice against Trump during the presidential race. Democrats were extremely optimistic about their chances of knocking off Sen. John McCain (R) last November, but even with a solid candidate in former representative Ann Kirkpatrick (D), the race wasn’t terribly close. In a midterm election — and the expected whiter and older electorate — it’s hard to imagine Flake as deeply endangered unless he does something colossally stupid (always a possibility!) between now and November 2018.
Beyond those two seats, there are simply no opportunities for Democrats. Like, none.
What that means is that the much-coveted-almost-never-attained filibuster-proof Senate majority — 60 seats — is possible, if far from probable, for Republicans in 2018. To win, Republicans would have to come close to running the table in the 10 states that Trump won — no easy task. In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Trump’s victory margins were tiny and the Democratic incumbents are not likely to get caught off guard. Ditto Florida and Ohio, which Trump won by slightly larger margins.
But the first step to massive gains — and an eight-seat gain is rightly understood as “massive” — is to avoid any losses on your side. Heller’s decision makes that a whole heck of a lot more likely for Republicans.”
FEELS LIKE A FOX IN HERE Yesterday, MSNBC announced that former Fox anchor Greta Van Susteren is joining the team. This comes a few days after Fox star Megyn Kelly said she’s moving to the NBC family as well. Yesterday, Fox announced that she’s being replaced by Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson, who’s jumped on the Trump train. Choo choo.
FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN DRINKING IN D.C. “The Cheapest Cocktail at the Trump Hotel Is Now $24,” Washingtonian “And you thought the $14 cocktail was too pricey? The Trump hotel’s lobby bar has raised its cocktail prices yet again. The cheapest option now is $24, while the most expensive is $100. It’s safe to say the Trump hotel’s Benjamin Bar & Lounge is now the most expensive overall bar in all of Washington, and its price hikes are the hugest I’ve ever seen, especially in such a short period.”