10 things you need to know today: December 20, 2019

Harold Maass

1.

The seven leading Democratic presidential candidates clashed over campaign finance, immigration, health care, and other issues on Thursday in the party's sixth and final debate of 2019. The debate included former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), billionaire Tom Steyer, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Warren and Buttigieg got into an extended exchange over donors, with Warren slamming Buttigieg for a recent big-money fundraiser, saying he was raising money from "billionaires in wine caves." Buttigieg, who has risen to the top tier in the field, pushed back, telling Warren "your net worth is 100 times mine" but he wouldn't reject a donation from her just because she is wealthy. [The Associated Press, The New York Times]

2.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), President Trump, and other Republicans on Thursday criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for saying she might delay the next step in the impeachment process. Pelosi reiterated her intention to delay naming impeachment managers to argue the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges against President Trump until the Senate spells out how it will run the trial. McConnell, who has rejected Democrats' demand for the trial to include testimony from top Trump administration officials, said on the Senate floor that Pelosi and her Democratic allies "may be too afraid to even transmit their shoddy work product to the Senate." Trump tweeted: "Pelosi feels her phony impeachment HOAX is so pathetic she is afraid to present it to the Senate." [Bloomberg]

3.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised year-end news conference that Democrats had impeached President Trump for "fabricated reasons." Putin said Democrats charged Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his actions in Ukraine because their effort to oust him over alleged collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 elections didn't work. "The party which lost the election, the Democratic Party, tried to achieve results through other means, accusing Trump of colluding with Russia," Putin said, echoing Trump's claims that the impeachment process was an attempted coup. "Later on, it turned out that there had been no collusion, so this cannot be the basis for impeachment. ... Your members of Congress should know better." [USA Today, CNN]

4.

The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved the renegotiated deal intended to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, handing President Trump a bipartisan victory a day after impeaching him. The 385-41 vote came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) secured concessions, including strict labor standards and environmental provisions. Pelosi said the revised deal was "light years" ahead of the one the Trump administration worked out with Canada and Mexico. Republicans also rallied behind the agreement, eager to deliver one of Trump's key 2016 campaign promises. Trump repeatedly bashed NAFTA as a killer of American jobs because it encouraged companies to move jobs to Mexico where labor is cheaper. "Another promise made, another promise kept," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The deal goes to the Republican-controlled Senate next. [The Associated Press, Axios]

5.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), co-founder of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus and one of President Trump's most stalwart defenders and congressional advisers, announced early Thursday that he isn't seeking re-election in 2020 and may not finish out his term. Meadows told Politico he is in talks for an unspecified job with Trump, possibly on his re-election campaign. Trump has also suggested he might hire Meadows as White House chief of staff. The filing deadline in North Carolina is Friday, and a source close to Meadows told Axios that Friday's deadline and Wednesday's impeachment vote determined the timing of his announcement. Meadows is the 24th House Republican to announce his retirement, further complicating the GOP's hopes of retaking control of the House. [Politico, Axios]

6.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) called for civility on Thursday after President Trump suggested her late husband, former Rep. John Dingell Jr., might have wound up in hell after his death earlier this year. Trump, speaking at a Michigan rally on the night he was impeached, contrasted what he said was his respectful honoring of the late congressman with pushback Trump has received from Debbie Dingell, who wrote an opinion piece published Tuesday calling for Trump's impeachment for "abuse of power." Trump said John Dingell would be thrilled looking down at what was happening in Washington, or "maybe he's looking up." Debbie Dingell said the remark hurt her. "I'm preparing for the first holiday season without the man I love," she tweeted. "You brought me down in a way you can never imagine." [The New York Times]

7.

President Trump announced Thursday that Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey Democrat who voted with Republicans against impeaching Trump, was leaving the Democratic Party to join the GOP. "It's a big deal," Trump announced alongside Drew in the Oval Office. "I believe that this is just a better fit for me," Van Drew said. He said what tipped the decision was a meeting in which a county Democratic Party chairman in his district vowed to "destroy" him if he opposed impeachment. "This is who I am, it's who I always was, but there was more tolerance of moderate Democrats, of Blue Dog Democrats, of conservative Democrats," Van Drew said, "and I think that's going away." Trump said he was endorsing Van Drew for re-election. Democratic critics said Van Drew jumped ship because polls showed him in danger of losing in the primaries. [The Associated Press]

8.

A gunman opened fire at the entrance to Russia's Federal Security Service headquarters in Moscow on Thursday, killing one FSB officer. The attacker barricaded himself in a building and was killed in a shootout with police, according to Russian media reports. Five victims were wounded. The security agency, which Russian President Vladimir Putin once led, succeeded the former Soviet Union's KGB. When the shooting broke out, Putin was giving a speech at a nearby concert honoring Russian security service workers. The FSB denied early media reports that as many as three gunmen participated in the attack. [USA Today, BBC News]

9.

The Senate on Thursday passed the $1.4 trillion spending deal needed to prevent a partial government shutdown when current funding expires at midnight Friday. The legislation, which the House approved earlier in the week, will keep government agencies funded through September. President Trump is expected to sign the deal, separated into security and domestic spending packages, in time to meet the deadline. The package includes a military and civilian federal worker pay raise and repeal of three health-care taxes intended to help pay for the Affordable Care Act. It also keeps border wall funding at $1.37 billion, far below the $8.6 billion the Trump administration had sought. A showdown over the wall funding resulted in a government shutdown at the end of last year. [CNN]

10.

The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill seeking to discourage robocalls by toughening enforcement and making phone companies give customers free tools to block scammers. The House approved the measure earlier this month. President Trump is expected to sign the legislation. The bill would expand preventive efforts being pushed by the Federal Communications Commission and state attorneys general. Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumer Reports, said the measure was a good start in cracking down on the billions of scam calls Americans get every week, but cautioned that "robocalls are not going to disappear overnight." [The Associated Press]

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