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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider

    After over 14 hours of debate, Democrats surprised Republicans by holding off a final vote in the House Judiciary Committee until Friday morning on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, as Democrats charged the President was clearly trying to get Ukraine to announce investigations which would benefit Mr. Trump's 2020 re-election bid. 'President Trump used his office to serve himself,' said Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), as Democrats said the evidence was clear that President Trump was trying to get foreign help for 2020. 'The President is an imminent threat,' said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX). 'We have to take action, we must impeach the President.'  'One of my colleagues said that we are lowering the bar on impeachment,' said Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA). 'I believe we are lowering the bar on the Presidency.' Republicans denounced the impeachment effort as a political vendetta by a party which was still upset about losing the 2016 election. 'This impeachment is going to fail, and the Democrats are justly going to pay a heavy political price for it,' said Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA). 'This is a day that will live in infamy for the Judiciary Committee,' said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). 'It's a focus group impeachment,' said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), as Republicans decried the lack of detail in the articles of impeachment. The delay in the committee vote until Friday left Republicans spitting mad, as GOP lawmakers were caught completely off guard. “Stalinesque,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). Republicans had prolonged debate until after 11 pm - and the immediate thought on Capitol Hill was that Democrats did not want to be accused of voting on impeachment 'in the middle of the night' - so they delayed action until Friday. The panel will meet at 10 am ET.
  • Already over two months behind schedule, key lawmakers in Congress said Thursday they had reached a tentative agreement which would hopefully bring $1.3 trillion in funding bills to a vote next week in the House and Senate, avoiding a government shutdown deadline of December 20. 'There's a meeting of the minds,' said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, as lawmakers scrambled to wrap up a dozen unfinished funding bills for the federal government - work which should have been finished by October 1. With no details readily available - and House leaders talking about holding a vote by Tuesday on a single giant bill, or maybe a pair of funding plans - the familiar year-end rush caused furrowed brows for some in the Congress. 'Two minibuses = an omnibus,' tweeted Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), using the familiar name for large funding measures, in which up to a dozen spending bills are jammed into one catch-all funding plan. Congress is supposed to be finished with the 12 different funding bills for the federal government by September 30 of each year - as the new fiscal year begins October 1. But over the past 45 years, it has become standard procedure for lawmakers in both parties to use temporary funding measures - known as 'continuing resolutions' - to fund operations of the government while final spending deals are worked out by the House and Senate. Only four times since a big change in Congressional budget rules in 1974 has the Congress finished the funding work on time - in 1976, 1988, 1994, and 1996.
  • Facing a wall of Republican opposition, Democrats in the U.S. House are on the verge of approving two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, as critics of the President pressed their case in opening arguments Wednesday night before the House Judiciary Committee. 'We must hold this President accountable for corrupting our democracy,' said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). 'We must impeach this President.' 'President Trump grossly abused his power,' said Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ). 'Until this investigation began, I did not support impeaching President Trump,' said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), who labeled this a 'break glass' emergency moment in American history. 'This is a moment that the President has forced upon us,' said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL). On the other side of the dais, Republicans ridiculed and blasted the impeachment effort by Democrats, labeling them sore losers, and accusing their rivals of simply trying to undo the results of the last election. 'We are witness, I believe, the most tragic mockery of justice in the history of this nation,' said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH). 'This is scary stuff what they're doing,' said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). 'Frankly it is dangerous for our country. It is not healthy for our country.' 'We've heard some great speeches tonight, but let's not forget, this is a political hit job,' said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA). 'This is the quickest, thinnest, weakest, most partisan impeachment in all of American presidential history,' said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). Debate will resume at 9 am on the two articles of impeachment which Democrats have set before the panel. One charge alleges abuse of power by President Trump, revolving around his July 25, 2019 phone call with the leader of Ukraine, where the President pressed Ukraine to announce investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden, and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine - and not Russia - had been behind the hacking of Democrats in 2016. The other impeachment charge covers obstruction of Congress, as Democrats say the President's refusal to cooperate with investigators - and his orders to Executive Branch officials to defy subpoenas from Congress - is not behavior which should be tolerated under the Constitution. Votes in the Judiciary Committee are expected Thursday, with a vote in the full House next week.
  • The path of the federal deficit continued in the wrong direction in the month of November as the Treasury Department reported on Wednesday that Uncle Sam ran up a budget shortfall last month of $209 billion, as the deficit totaled $343 billion in just the first two months of the new fiscal year. The latest monthly report contained a familiar set of numbers, as revenues went up by a small amount, while spending went up by a larger number. It was the fifth time in the last thirteen months that the monthly deficit for the U.S. Government went over $200 billion, with a record of $234 billion set in February 2019. The 2020 fiscal year began with a deficit of $134 billion in October. The latest budget figures also reflected the new tariffs levied by the Trump Administration on imports from China and other nations, as the feds have brought in $14.6 billion in import duties in October-November - almost $3 billion more than the same two months in 2018. In Fiscal Year 2019, the feds took in $71 billion in tariffs, a dramatic increase from $38 billion in 2018. The quick jump in the deficit for Fiscal Year 2020 only reinforces the forecasts by the White House and the Congressional Budget Office that the deficit will go over $1 trillion - possibly for a number of years. 'Permanent trillion-dollar deficits are projected starting this year,' the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said earlier this month. 'And policymakers can't pass a budget.' Watchdog groups like the CFRB are worried a year-end deal to fund the operations of the federal government, also might raise the deficit as well. You can read the full deficit report from the Treasury Department at this link.
  • House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled the details of their two impeachment charges in the investigation of President Donald Trump, bringing articles that cover alleged abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. 'We must be clear - no one, not even the President - is above the law,' said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who will shepherd the impeachment charges through the House Judiciary Committee later this week. The focus for Democrats is the President's request in a July 25 phone call with the leader of Ukraine, where a rough transcript of the call shows Mr. Trump asking Ukraine to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, and into a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine - and not Russia - hacked Democrats in 2016. 'The evidence of the President's misconduct is overwhelming and uncontested,' said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who led five days of public impeachment hearings in the House Intelligence Committee. ARTICLE ONE - ABUSE OF POWER The nine page impeachment resolution features two charges; the first is on 'Abuse of Power.' This charge follows the President's July 25 phone call with the President of Ukraine. 'President Trump engaged in this scheme or course of conduct for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit,' the impeachment resolution states. 'He thus ignored and injured the interests of the Nation,' it concludes. The impeachment article specifically mentions the President's effort to have Ukraine announce an investigation with respect to former Vice President Joe Biden - saying Mr. Trump 'corruptly solicited' the government of Ukraine for help. The resolution also says Mr. Trump wanted an investigation into a 'discredited theory promoted by Russia alleging that Ukraine - rather than Russia - interfered in the 2016 United States Presidential election.' ARTICLE TWO - OBSTRUCTION OF CONGRESS The second impeachment article is on 'Obstruction of Congress' - as Democrats charge the President wrongly directed those in the Executive Branch to defy subpoenas from Congress in the Ukraine investigation. The resolution specifically names nine different Trump Administration officials who defied subpoenas from Congress for their testimony, including Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and the head of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought. Not named in the resolution are three other figures who refused to cooperate - the President's attorney Rudy Giuliani, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and former National Security Adviser John Bolton. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to debate and vote on the impeachment articles on Thursday. A vote in the full House is expected next week. Democrats reach deal with Trump on US-Mexico-Canada trade deal Internal DOJ watchdog: Russia probe properly started by FBI
  • After months of quiet negotiations with the White House on changes to the USMCA trade agreement, Democrats on Tuesday said they had reached a deal with President Donald Trump on a deal to replace the NAFTA agreement with Mexico and Canada, possibly paving the way for a vote this year on one of the President's biggest agenda items. 'This is a day we have all been working for,' Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters. 'It is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the Administration.' Democrats had pressed for a series of changes related to enforcement of labor and environmental standards, and won new provisions dealing with enforceability of those items. 'It's a victory for America's workers,' Pelosi added, as the head of the AFL-CIO signaled his public support. A variety of groups hailed the news. 'We are optimistic this development will open the door to final approval of USMCA on a bipartisan basis by the end of the year,' said Tom Donahue, the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 'This is welcome news and a relief for American farmers,' said Angela Hoffman of the group Farmers for Free Trade. 'Farmers and ranchers will be watching closely to ensure that their members of Congress are standing up for American agriculture,” Hoffman added. 'The USMCA will create even more jobs for the hardworking families who are the backbone of our economy – the farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and small business owners,' said Vice President Mike Pence in a statement. Pence's written statement said Democrats had finally 'acquiesced' to a vote on the agreement - but the White House had been fully involved in the behind the scenes talks in recent months with Democrats and other outside groups. The late changes include agreements to strengthen labor standards, toughen the environmental agreements, set up stricter verification mechanisms, and on dispute resolution issues among the three nations. The agreement came after months of public criticism of Democrats by the President and GOP lawmakers in Congress - which grew harsher and harsher in recent weeks - even as the White House was working behind the scenes with Speaker Pelosi on ways to tweak the agreement in order to get the support of Democrats and major labor unions. 'There is no question of course that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA,' Pelosi said at a news conference in the same room where she helped to announce impeachment charges against the President - just an hour earlier. A House vote is expected next week on the USMCA deal - just about the same time that lawmakers will also be voting on a pair of historic impeachment charges against President Trump.
  • After a nearly ten hour impeachment hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Monday, Democrats in the U.S. House set a news conference for Tuesday morning to announce their next steps, reportedly ready to unveil two impeachment charges against President Donald Trump. The news conference was set as Democrats argued Monday that President Trump had wrongly held back military aid to Ukraine in an effort to pressure that government to announce investigations which could benefit Mr. Trump politically in the 2020 elections. 'Such conduct is clearly impeachable,” Rep. Jerry Nadler D-NY said as he wrapped up the hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. 'This committee will proceed accordingly.' 'The evidence is undisputed and overwhelming,' said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA). 'President Trump thinks he can get away with it,' said Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). 'But he got caught - and he tried to cover it up.' 'The President's pattern of behavior is incredibly disturbing,' said Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL). 'Russia, Ukraine, China - he's inviting three countries to help him in his 2020 re-election campaign,' the Florida Democrat added. While there had been talk that Democrats would produce as many as five different articles of impeachment, the latest indications were there would be only two - covering abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Republicans denounced the entire process, saying Democrats were rushing simply because they did not have evidence to back up their claims against the President. “This is ridiculous,” Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) said at one point during Monday's House Judiciary Committee hearing. “We shouldn't be doing this.” “This is a sham,” said Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA).
  • In a long awaited report on the origins of the Russia investigation, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice concluded on Monday that the 2016 investigation of possible Russian election interference was properly undertaken by the FBI, saying there was no evidence the Trump Campaign had been spied upon by investigators. The 476 page report found that 'Crossfire Hurricane' - the code name for the original Russia investigation - 'was opened for an authorized investigative purpose and with sufficient factual predication.' Pushing back against claims that the FBI had illegally spied on the Trump campaign, the IG report found 'no evidence that the FBI placed any' confidential human sources 'to report on the Trump campaign.' The IG report confirmed that the decision to start the investigation had been spurred by revelations from an Australian diplomat, who had been told early in 2016 by Trump foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos that the Russians had 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton. The report also indicated that even before the formal investigation was undertaken, the FBI was already looking carefully at Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Both men had known ties to people suspected of being involved with Russian Intelligence. The report also rejected claims of political bias from inside the FBI - even as it raised questions about bias from both sides of the aisle. The report addressed the previously known text messages between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and top counterintelligence official Peter Strzok - but found they did not play any role in the decision to launch the investigation into possible Russian interference or ties to the Trump campaign in 2016. On the other side, the report also found evidence from some FBI investigators that they favored Mr. Trump - also leaving an electronic paper trail - and in this case, indicating their desire to investigate the Clinton Foundation. In an odd twist to the public release of the report, Inspector General Michael Horowitz found his conclusions under public attack from the Attorney General of the United States. 'The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,' Barr said in his own statement, which was at odds with the IG's conclusion. The skepticism also included a statement from U.S. Attorney John Durham, Barr's handpicked investigator who is doing his own review of the same situation. For Republicans the report's criticism of possible problems with the FISA process dealing with former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was the target of most GOP criticism. In the report, the IG found that there were a number of 'factual misstatements and omissions' in terms of information, which might have undermined what officials thought was an easy decision to sign off on a FISA application for surveillance of Page, who was no stranger to the FBI when it came to Russian intelligence investigations. 'Our review found that FBI personnel fell far short of the requirement in FBI policy that they ensure that all factual statements in a FISA application are 'scrupulously accurate,' the IG summary stated. 'We identified multiple instances in which factual assertions relied upon in the first FISA application were inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation, based upon information the FBI had in its possession at the time the application was filed,' the report continued. But the IG did not take any stance on whether the Page FISA requests were improper.
  • Even as Democrats press ahead with a historic effort to impeach President Donald Trump in the House, lawmakers in both parties are on the cusp of possibly producing series of major, bipartisan legislative deals, covering everything from a crackdown on surprise medical bills to a compromise establishing the President's plan for a 'Space Force' at the Pentagon in exchange for a big benefits change for federal workers. The calendar doesn't offer much time for action in either the House or Senate, as lawmakers hope to leave town by the weekend before Christmas - which would give the House and Senate until around December 20-23. Here are some of the big issues which might get resolved in Congress at the same time as Democrats force a vote on impeachment. 1. Lawmakers cut deal on surprise medical bills. Sunday brought news that a group of key lawmakers - in both parties from the House and Senate - had reached agreement on a plan to rein surprise bills which consumers often face, especially after emergency care. Backers stressed the bipartisan nature of the agreement. 'The legislation includes proposals from 80 Senators, 46 Democrats and 34 Republicans,' said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in a Sunday statement. That does not necessarily mean this deal gets voted on in the next two weeks. 2. New minimum age to buy tobacco products. The deal on the issue of surprise medical bills also has some other items involved in it, including a provision which would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21 years. The idea of raising the legal age for buying cigarettes and tobacco has been supported in recent months by the Senate's top Republican - Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - but it's not clear if McConnell would rush such a bill to the Senate floor over the next two weeks. 3. 'Space Force' might be ready for launch. Lawmakers in both parties were trying to finalize a major defense policy bill early this week, and the details are expected to finally give President Trump his plan to set up a 'Space Force' inside the Pentagon. The plan - which has been resisted by lawmakers in both parties - would not set up a brand new branch of the military, as sought by President Trump. Instead, the Space Force would operate out of the Air Force, sort of like the Marines are considered part of the Navy. Critics argued a plan to set up a separate new branch of the military would have been too expensive, and would create an unnecessary new bureaucracy. 4. Paid family leave benefit for federal workers? The President won't get his Space Force for nothing in this major defense policy bill, as reportedly the deal with the White House will give around 2.7 million federal workers a new benefit - paid family leave. The plan would reportedly include up to 12 weeks of such leave for federal civilian workers. While no final bill language has been released, a tweet from over the weekend by President Trump's daughter shows this exchange could well be part of the defense bill. Stay tuned. 5. USMCA trade deal still a late year possibility. With a flurry of late negotiations involving U.S., Mexican, and Canadian trade officials, it's still possible that the final touches could be put on a new trade deal among the three nations, and have it voted on by the House and Senate. The White House has been quietly working with Mexico and Canada in recent weeks to work out tweaks to the agreement, mainly dealing with labor and environmental enforcement, trade dispute resolution, and issues dealing with some medical drugs. While the President and his allies keep saying the plan has been sent to Congress already for a vote - that is simply not true. 6. Government funding plan remains in limbo. While there were seemingly agreement on surprise medical billing, the Space Force, and more, lawmakers still have not finalized a giant package of bills to fund the operations of the federal government for 2020. The current temporary funding bill runs out on December 20. While there is obviously the threat of a government shutdown, lawmakers in both parties hope they can either reach a deal now - or extend that temporary spending plan into the New Year. So, this could also be part of a late rush of big legislation.
  • The U.S. economy was humming last month, as the Labor Department reported Friday that 266,000 jobs were created in the month of November, with the nation's unemployment rate ticking down again to the historically low level of 3.5 percent, as job growth in 2018 is now almost equal to last year's levels. Not only were 266 thousand jobs added in November, but the latest jobs report also revised growth upwards in both September and October, adding another 41,000 jobs. Monthly average job growth in 2019 stands at just under 180,000 jobs per month, compared to 182,000 in 2018, and 195,000 in 2017. While some of the November job gains were attributed to workers ending a strike against General Motors, the November job gains were the second largest of 2019, trailing only the 312,000 jobs created in January. GOP lawmakers in Congress hailed the new numbers. While the jobs report indicated stronger than expected growth, the overall numbers in terms of U.S. economic output have shown a slower pace of growth in recent months than earlier in 2019. The U.S. Gross Domestic Product was at 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2019, but dropped to 2.0 percent in the second quarter. The current estimate is for a 2.1 percent growth rate in the third quarter of 2019. President Trump has repeatedly blamed slowing growth on the head of the Federal Reserve - whom he nominated for the post - arguing the Fed should have cut interest rates more to spur economic activity in the U.S.

News

  • The remains of six victims of a deadly volcano eruption in New Zealand have been recovered. Sixteen people were killed on White Island when a volcano there unexpectedly erupted Monday, The Associated Press reported. Eight military specialists recovered six of the eight victims believed to be on the island, and the bodies will be taken to Auckland for identification, CNN reported. Due to toxic gases still being released from the volcano, the team had to wear protective suits and breathing gear to be on the island, the AP reported. The search had to end as air supplies ran low, the New York Times reported. An additional recovery mission is planned to find a tour guide and boat captain who had taken tourists to the island. At least one of them is expected to be in the water, but the other person’s location is unknown, the AP reported. Forty-seven tourists, many from a Royal Caribbean cruise, and guides were on the island when the volcano exploded. Many of the people who survived were burned. Fifteen tourists not from Australia are in burn units across the country with 11 listed as very critical. Thirteen Australians who were part of the tour have all returned to their home country, the AP reported. Skin banks are sending tissues to hospitals to help treat the burns, as medical teams from Australia, Britain and the U.S. travel to New Zealand to help treat patients, the AP reported.
  • A Minnesota man was sentenced Wednesday to more than 24 years in prison in the death of his 13-day-old son. Michael Herkal, 33, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, nearly 16 months to the day after Apple Valley police responded to an Aug. 12, 2018, medical call for an infant not breathing, WCCO reported. The child died two days later, after doctors determined he had suffered a skull fracture and bleeding in his brain. Herkal was charged initially with felony assault and malicious punishment of a child, but three additional charges of murder were filed after authorities received the autopsy report, KARE11 reported. According to WCCO, Herkal initially told authorities his toddler pulled the newborn off the couch twice but later claimed the baby slipped from his hands and fell onto a coffee table during a diaper change. During his plea hearing, however, Herkal admitted he also shook the infant violently and slapped him, the TV station reported.
  • Major League Baseball announced substantial changes Thursday to its drug use and testing policy, multiple news outlets reported. In addition to removing marijuana from its “drugs of abuse” category – making it the first major US sports league to do so – the organization announced mandatory testing for the presence of opioids, cocaine, synthetic THC, LSD and fentanyl, ABC News reported. Per the policy revisions, players will still be tested for “natural cannabinoids” such as THC, CBD, and marijuana, but punishment for violations will now be treated similarly to those of the alcohol and violence policies, ABC News reported. 'Going forward, marijuana-related conduct will be treated the same as alcohol-related conduct under the Parties’ Joint Treatment Program for Alcohol-Related and Off-Field Violent Conduct, which provides mandatory evaluation, voluntary treatment and the possibility of discipline by a Player’s Club or the Commissioner’s Office in response to certain conduct involving Natural Cannabinoids,” the league, in association with its players union, stated. According to NPR, the policy changes will take effect during 2020 spring training.  “The opioid epidemic in our country is an issue of significant concern to Major League Baseball,” MLB Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem said in a prepared statement, adding, “It is our hope that this agreement - which is based on principles of prevention, treatment, awareness and education - will help protect the health and safety of our Players.” Read more here and here.
  • Seeking emergency mental health assistance could soon be as simple as dialing 988, federal regulators announced Thursday. The Federal Communications Commission formally began the process Thursday to designate 988 as a nationwide suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. “The three-digit number is really going to be a breakthrough in terms of reaching people in a crisis,” Dwight Holton, CEO of suicide prevention nonprofit Lines for Life, told USA Today. “No one is embarrassed to call 911 for a fire or an emergency. No one should be embarrassed to call 988 for a mental health emergency.' According to The Wall Street Journal, the new hotline is intended to simplify access to services available currently by dialing 1-800-273-TALK, the existing National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Once operational, dialing 988 would connect callers to the existing hotline and then route them to nearby crisis centers equipped to provide assistance. “We believe this historical and critical effort will turn the tide on reducing suicides and promote mental wellness in the United States,” said a statement from Kimberly Williams, chief executive of Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit that administers the lifeline, The Journal reported. Read more here and here.
  • An emergency landing by a single-engine plane snarled traffic Thursday night on Interstate 5 in San Diego, multiple news outlets reported. Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the Federal Aviation Administration, told KNSD the Cessna 182 made a hard landing on the southbound lanes around 7:15 p.m. Within 30 minutes authorities had re-opened two southbound lanes, KFMB reported. Carlsbad Fire Division Chief Mike Lopez told KNSD a man and a woman were on board traveling from the San Gabriel Airport in Los Angeles to McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad. According to KFMB, no injuries were reported, and the plane did not strike any motorists. “They did a pretty good job landing this thing,” Lopez told KNSD, adding, “The skill of that pilot, he did a stellar job.”
  • A Fort Gibson man recently showed off his blacksmith skills by taking first place in a competition television show. Nic Overton, 23, earned the top spot on the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire,” which is centered around blacksmith work. Along with bragging rights, Overton won a $10,000 prize. Overton told KOKI he’s been fascinated with blacksmithing since he was a child and crafted his first knife out of a railroad spike. He managed to turn his hobby into a career. He owns his own business called Nix Knives.