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Wake Up To Politics - December 12, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, December 12, 2018. 418 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 692 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Trump, Democratic leaders spar during televised Oval Office meeting

A Tuesday meeting between President Donald Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) quickly turned contentious, as the trio started negotiating about government funding in front of television cameras that were in the Oval Office only to record a brief photo-op at the beginning of what was supposed to be a private summit.

The powwow began normally enough, with the president delivering a statement to the assembled reporters, as Pelosi and Schumer sat on couches flanking him. (Vice President Mike Pence was also present for the exchange, sitting in a chair next to the president, silently.) Listing his priorities before the end of the year, Trump added: "And then we have the easy one, the wall," referring to his proposed border wall that has emerged as the sticking point in spending negotiations.

"It's called 'funding the government,' Mr. President," Schumer snapped back. The fireworks would continue for 17 minutes, televised for all to see, giving the nation a glimpse of what the next two years of divided government may look like as Democrats prepare to seize the House majority next month.

During the extraordinary exchange, Trump threatened point-blank to shut down the government if his demand of $5 billion in wall funding is not met. "If we don't get what we want... I will shut down the government," he said. "I am proud to shut down the government for border security... So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down."

Trump was goaded into making the threat by Schumer, who pointed to the times in the past that the president had made shutdown threats, while insisting that the Democrats were united behind the belief that the government should stay open.

The barbs turned personal at times, as Pelosi referred to the looming partial government shutdown as "a Trump shutdown," to the president's visible surprise. Later, when Trump said Pelosi was "in a situation where it's not easy for her to talk right now," referring to the uncertainty of whether she will claim the House speakership in the next Congress, the Californian icily responded: "Mr. President, please don't characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory."

When the president boasted about his party's gains in the Senate in last month's midterm elections, Schumer quickly responded: "When the president brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he's in real trouble," staring straight ahead at the cameras instead of making contact with Trump, who sat just feet away.

Schumer and Pelosi also sought to correct the president's falsehoods in real-time, citing a Washington Post fact-check of his frequent claim that construction on the border wall has already begun.

The personal nature of the meeting did not fall away after it ended. According to multiple news outlets, Pelosi told House Democrats later Tuesday that the wall is "like a manhood thing" with Trump, "as if manhood can be associated with him." Describing their Oval Office exchange, Pelosi added: "It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you."

At the end of the day, the sides appeared no closer to brokering an agreement on government funding, which is set to run out for some agencies on December 21. Trump refused to waver from his $5 billion demand, while the Democratic leaders said $1.3 billion for border fencing was the most they would offer. During the meeting, Trump claimed that a measure with $5 billion would pass the House "in two seconds." Pelosi urged him to hold a vote if that was the case: "Well, then go do it. Go do it... You will not win."

The two Democrats also repeatedly asked for the reporters to leave, so negotiations could continue in private, but the president seemed to enjoy the live back-and-forth debating. Trump has held similar sessions on camera at the White House in the past, allowing legislating to occur in the open. "It's called transparency," he said Tuesday. Pelosi responded: "But it's not transparency when we're not stipulating to a set of facts." At another point, she lamented that the meeting had "spiraled downward."

According to the Washington Post, "Several White House advisers and GOP congressional aides said they believed Trump damaged himself by agreeing to own a possible shutdown and so vividly saying he would not blame it on Schumer, as he did an earlier shutdown." The president was reportedly not pleased with how the meeting went either; according to the Los Angeles Times, he "appeared upset" after leaving the room, "flicking a folder and sending its papers flying out" in frustration.

However, Trump did not depart from his position when speaking to reporters at a bill signing later. "I don't mind owning that issue," he said, referring to border security.

Describing the summit, he added: "Believe it or not, I think it was a very friendly meeting."

The Russia investigation

In a sentencing memo Tuesday, attorneys for former national security adviser Michael Flynn asked a federal judge to spare him jail time and sentence him to probation and 200 hours of community service instead. Flynn is set to be sentenced on December 18 for one charge of lying to FBI investigators, which he has pleaded guilty to. Prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller also recommended Flynn serve little to no prison time in their own memo last week. Flynn's lawyers said their client deserved leniency due to his extensive cooperation with Mueller's probe, which they said "was not grudging or delayed," revealing that he sat for 62+ hours of interviews with government investigators.

--- Meanwhile, attorneys for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort told a judge Tuesday that they may not contest the Mueller team's claim that Manafort broke his plea agreement by lying to them. If the defense wants one, a hearing will take place on January 25 to argue whether he had breached his plea agreement; the judge said that the memo submitted by Mueller's prosecutors last week did not give enough detail for her to make a decision.

--- Also today: Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen will be sentenced for the eight felony counts he pleaded guilty to federal prosecutors to in August, which included tax evasion and campaign finance violations, as well as the count of lying to Congress he was charged with by special counsel Robert Mueller last month.

The Rundown

Inside Congress: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Tuesday that the Senate will vote this month on a bipartisan criminal justice reform package, which overhauls sentencing laws and the federal prison. McConnell has previously appeared skeptical of the bill, backed by President Trump and spearheaded by his son-in-law Jared Kushner. "These historic changes will make communities SAFER and SAVE tremendous taxpayer dollars," the president tweeted Tuesday.

Inside the White House: As Trump's search for a third White House chief of staff continues, a broader administration shakeup looms. According to the Wall Street Journal, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (a top ally of outgoing chief of staff John Kelly), is expected to be the next official to go and has already begun looking into jobs in the private sector. Other West Wing aides are also joining Kelly and vice presidential chief of staff Nick Ayers in departing, including political director Bill Stepien and Office of Public Liasion director Justin Clark, who have both decamped to the president's re-election campaign. The president also announced two new Cabinet-level picks last week, Attorney General-designate Bill Barr and UN Ambassador-designate Heather Nauert.

Quote of the Day: Asked in a Reuters interview if he was worried about the prospect of impeachment, President Trump responded: "I'm not concerned, no. I think that people would revolt if that happened." Trump also denied that Michael Cohen had violated campaign finance laws, and dismissed revelations about contacts his aides and associates had with Russians during the 2016 campaign as "peanut stuff."

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White House schedule

POTUS: At 2:30 p.m., President Trump participates in a signing event for an Executive Order establishing the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council.

VP: At 11:30 a.m., Vice President Mike Pence (who chairs the revived National Space Council) participates in a briefing with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. At 12:30 p.m., the vice president participates in a meet and greet with NASA employees.

FLOTUS: First Lady Melania Trump will visit two military bases and a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in a multi-stop tour to honor servicemembers today.

At 8:15 a.m., she meets with service members at Joint Base Anacostia in Washington, D.C. to "thank them for their service and wish them happy holidays."

She will then fly in a V-22 (her first time aboard such an aircraft) to Joint Base Langley in Hampton, Virginia, where she will "give brief remarks [at 9 a.m.], meet with military families, and view a static display of the United States' most capable air dominance fighter, the F-22A Raptor."

Finally, the First Lady will visit the USS George H.W. Bush at its home port in Norfolk, Virginia at 10:30 a.m. to "spend time with the crew and tour part of the carrier."

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate convenes at 9:30 a.m. At 12:15 p.m., the chamber will vote on adoption of S.J.Res.64, a resolution introduced by Sens. John Tester (D-MT) and Ron Wyden (D-IR) to block a Treasury Department rule that loosens reporting requirements for political nonprofits (so-called "dark money" groups) so they no longer have to share their donors' names and addresses with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The Senate may also vote today on a resolution authored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to end U.S. military involvement in the war in Yemen, one of the measures lawmakers are considering to punish Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

House: The House convenes today at 10 a.m. The chamber is scheduled to vote on three pieces of legislation:

  1. H.Res. 1091 – Calling on the Government of Burma to release Burmese journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo sentenced to seven years imprisonment after investigating attacks against civilians by Burma’s military and security forces, and for other purposes, as amended
  2. Senate Amendment to H.R. 2454 – Department of Homeland Security Data Framework Act of 2017, as amended
  3. House Amendment to S. 2736 – Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018

The chamber will also begin debate on H.R. 2, the five-year farm bill, an $867 billion measure passed by Senate in an 87-13 vote on Tuesday.

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court does not have a conference or oral arguments scheduled until January 4.

*All times Eastern