“The White House signaled Wednesday that it will aggressively defend President Trump in a near-certain Senate impeachment trial in the coming weeks, as legal experts called by House Democrats testified in a contentious hearing that Trump’s Ukraine dealings constitute an impeachable offense,” the Washington Post reports.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed Kelly Loeffler (R) to the U.S. Senate, selecting the financial executive over a congressman that President Trump repeatedly urged the Republican to pick, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.
Loeffler presented herself as a lifelong conservative who is “pro-Second Amendment, pro-military, pro-wall and pro-Trump” to counter criticism pitting her as a closet liberal.
Said Loeffler: “I make no apologies for my conservative values and will proudly support President Trump’s conservative judges.”
Senate Republicans will vote this week to confirm a lifetime federal judge who claimed that fertility treatments and surrogacy have “grave effects on society, including diminished respect for motherhood and the unique mother-child bond; exploitation of women; commodification of gestation and of children themselves; and weakening of appropriate social mores against eugenic abortion,” the HuffPost reports.
“With the impeachment inquiry charging forward, President Trump’s allies have defended his demand for political investigations from Ukraine by claiming that the government in Kyiv tried to sabotage his candidacy and boost Hillary Clinton in 2016,” Politico reports.
“But the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee thoroughly investigated that theory and found no evidence that Ukraine waged a top-down interference campaign akin to the Kremlin’s efforts to help Trump win in 2016.”
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Playbook: “We’ve covered a lot of December legislative nightmares. This one might be the worst. Not only are there a ton of issues, but there are also a ton of explosive and contentious issues on a collision course. The White House is under siege, and the Democratic majority is trying to do backflips on a tightrope. Time is a precious commodity, as is political capital, and everyone is going to try to maximize both.”
“It’s folly at this point to predict what might happen, because no one has any clue.”
“President Trump has vowed to lower the cost of prescription drugs. A Senate committee has approved a bipartisan bill to do just that. And the plan is going nowhere fast,” Politico reports.
“With Democrats in control of the House, the GOP-controlled Senate has shifted virtually its entire focus to confirming Trump’s judicial nominees where bipartisan votes aren’t needed. And heading into an election year, McConnell is loath to bring up issues that divide his caucus or risk alienating powerful industry groups. Legislative activity will only decline further if and when the Senate holds an impeachment trial that will further polarize the Capitol.”
The Hill: “Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) is set to retire in approximately a month, creating an opening atop the Senate Ethics Committee, a behind-the-scenes panel responsible for enforcing standards of behavior for senators and their staffs and investigating potential violations of federal law or the Senate’s rules.”
“But GOP senators who spoke with The Hill, including current members of the committee, had a nearly universal response when asked if they wanted to take over the Ethics Committee: Thanks, but no thanks.”
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) plans to tap financial executive Kelly Loeffler to a U.S. Senate seat next week as he pushes to expand the Georgia GOP’s appeal to women who have fled the party in recent years, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.
“The appointment would defy President Trump and other Republican leaders who have repeatedly urged him to appoint U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a four-term congressman who is one of the president’s staunchest defenders in Washington.”
“Legal experts say the fight over whether White House counsel Don McGahn must testify under subpoena before Congress could be settled at the Senate impeachment trial before it finishes its path through the courts,” The Hill reports.
“A federal judge on Monday ruled against the Trump administration, deciding that McGahn must comply with a House Judiciary Committee subpoena seeking his testimony.”
“The ruling is being appealed, but Democrats could look to secure testimony from McGahn and other key witnesses directly at the Senate trial, where Chief Justice John Roberts would preside, experts said. There, Roberts would have a key role in deciding questions about admitting evidence before the case even gets to the Supreme Court.”
Former Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA), writing in the New York Times:
“My fellow Republicans, please follow the facts. It’s not enough merely to dismiss the Ukraine investigation as a partisan witch hunt or to hide behind attacks against the ‘deep state,’ or to try to find some reason to denounce every witness who steps forward, from decorated veterans to Trump megadonors. History demands that we all wrestle with the facts at hand. They are unavoidable.”
Michael Gerson: The GOP’s galling accommodation of Trump.
When asked if President Trump acted appropriately in his handling of Ukraine, CNN notes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sidestepped the question: “Like I said we’ll deal with the matter when it comes to the House as we’re supposed to.”
But he added: “I can’t imagine a scenario under which 67 members of the senate would remove a president from office in the middle of a presidential election… We will take it up, because we have no choice.”
“Congressional Republicans dug deep in defense of Donald Trump over the weekend, frustrating Democratic hopes that the impeachment inquiry would build bipartisan support following weeks of testimony laying out how Trump attempted to extract a political ‘favor’ from Ukraine in exchange for official acts,” The Guardian reports.
“At the same time, the White House said it was preparing for a trial in the Senate. If the House of Representatives votes for impeachment, the matter would move to the upper chamber with Trump’s removal from office on the line.”
“But that prospect seemed distant as not a single elected Republican stepped forward to criticize Trump and members of Congress dodged the question of whether it was acceptable for a president to seek help from a foreign country with a political campaign.”
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff left the door open to the possibility of more hearings or depositions in the impeachment inquiry but said that Democrats will not “wait months and months while the administration plays a game of rope-a-dope in an effort to try to stall,” CNN reports.
In fact, he said it’s possible reluctant witnesses could be compelled to testify at a Senate trial.
Said Schiff: “Well, I think there’s certainly merit to the idea that we may get a quicker ruling from a chief justice in a Senate trial, if it ever came to that, than we would get by going months and months on end litigating the matter.”
Joe Biden told CNN that he’s “embarrassed” by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has ramped up efforts to make Hunter Biden a focal point of the impeachment proceedings against President Trump, saying Graham will “go down in a way that I think he’s going to regret his whole life.”
Politico: “A group of Republican senators met Thursday morning with White House counsel Pat Cipollone, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner to discuss impeachment strategy.”
“Two attendees said that the White House wants the Senate to hold a trial of some length and not immediately dismiss any articles of impeachment with the GOP’s majority, as some Republicans have suggested. The White House and Trump’s GOP allies decided instead ‘they want some kind of factual affirmative defense on the merits,’ said one attendee.”
The Washington Post says the proceedings in the Senate that could be limited to about two weeks.
Politico: “President Trump is aggressively courting Senate Republicans as impeachment bears down, and on Thursday, he’ll come face-to-face with two of the most unpredictable jurors in any Senate trial: Mitt Romney and Susan Collins.”
“By day’s end, the president will have hosted more than 40 Republican senators at the White House since the fall began, mostly for weekly lunches that address a series of issues but also usually include a side of impeachment. Another group will head to the White House on Thursday, leaving just a handful of Republican senators untended by the president.”
“The flurry of activity highlights the increasingly urgent task at hand for Trump: Making sure that the GOP caucus understands his side of the Ukraine saga, not just through his tweets, but from him personally. If the 47 Democratic Caucus members stay united and vote to remove Trump from office, the president needs the support of as many of the 53 Senate Republicans as possible, both to avoid his removal from office and to keep the party from splintering ahead of his 2020 re-election bid.”
Politico: “A half-dozen Democratic senators running for president will be anchored in Washington at the climax of early state campaigning, further marrying Democratic primary politics to the effort to oust Trump. These senators will need to find ways to break through both nationally and in Iowa and New Hampshire, but rather than house parties and cattle calls, impeachment will now be the forum — not an easy task.”
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) deadpanned: “Pete Buttigieg, is moving ahead! It would be horrible.”
She added: “Warren and Bernie Sanders will be here right before the Iowa caucuses. Iowans expect to reach out and shake their hands. And they will be here sitting at their desks. I feel so badly for them.”