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Franken to deliver announcement amid calls for resignation
Nearly three weeks after Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden's initial accusation that Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) forcibly kissed her on a USO tour in 2006, calls for the lawmaker to resign reached a tipping point on Wednesday.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) became the first Senate Democrat to publicly urge for Franken's resignation on Wednesday. "While Senator Franken is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve," Gillibrand said in a Facebook post.
Within hours, she was joined by a number of other female lawmakers, and later by Democratic men as well. In 24 hours, the number of Democratic senators calling on Franken to step down had gone from zero to 36, three-fourths of the caucus.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joined the chorus on Wednesday night, declaring in a statement: "Senator Franken should resign. I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately."
The calls from his Democratic colleagues followed the publication on Wednesday of two new accusations of inappropriate behavior by Franken: one woman alleging that he groped her in 2009 and another saying he attempted to forcibly kiss her in 2006. Franken denied the latter accusation, as well as the woman's claim that he defended his actions by telling her, "It's my right as an entertainer."
Without the support of his fellow Democrats, Franken will take to the Senate floor today to "make an announcement," according to his office. Minnesota Public Radio reported that Franken will announce his resignation in the speech, although Franken's office called the report "not accurate," adding that "no final decision has been made and the Senator is still talking with his family."
ABC News also reported that Franken is expected to resign today, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) told reporters that he expects so as well. It would be a stunning fall from grace for the Minnesotan, once a darling of the left as a comedian and author and (more recently) as a potential candidate for the White House.
According to Politico, if Franken resigns, Gov. Mark Dayton (D-MN) will likely appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D-MN) to his seat on an interim basis. Smith is not likely to run in a special election, which would take place in 2018, that will determine who hold the seat for the final two years of Franken's term.
Franken would be the second lawmaker to step down this week over allegations of sexual misconduct, following Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)'s resignation on Tuesday. Another member of Congress facing accusations, Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV), has dug in (as both Franken and Conyers initially attempted to do), ignoring calls to resign from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-NV) and other top Democrats. Meanwhile, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) has mostly flown under the radar: no congressional leaders have urged him to step down since his $84,000 settlement with a former aide over a sexual harassment suit was made public.
--- How did Wednesday become the "tipping point" for Franken? Politico goes "inside the demise of Al Franken"...
Schumer, Pelosi head to White House for shutdown talks
The four top leaders in Congress — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — head to the White House today for a meeting on the "year-end agenda" today, with the deadline to fund the government and avert a shutdown by midnight Friday ticking closer.
"We're glad the White House has reached out and asked for a second meeting," Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement, referencing last week's planned meeting with congressional leadership, when President Trump ended up sitting next to empty chairs after the Democratic duo pulled out to protest Trump's comments panning them and the likelihood of a deal emerging. "We hope the President will go into this meeting with an open mind, rather than deciding an agreement can't be reached beforehand."
The House is expected to vote today on a continuing resolution (CR) funding the federal government through December 22; the Senate would have to follow today or tomorrow. The two-week measure also includes emergency funding for states low on money for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which expired over two months ago. Today's negotiations with Trump and the four congressional leaders are for a longer-term spending bill lawmakers hope to pass after the CR expires.
The spending legislation would need at least eight Democratic votes in the Senate to avoid a filibuster and could require support from House Democrats if enough Republicans defect, which is possible. Democrats are demanding that the spending deal include an agreement to pass the DREAM Act, which would protect immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as minors (a legislative version of the executive action Trump rescinded in September). 34 House Republicans have also urged action on the protections, penning a letter to Housse Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to express their support for a vote on the DREAM Act.
In a comment to reporters on Wednesday, President Trump said that a shutdown "could happen," adding: "The Democrats are really looking at something that is very dangerous for our country. They are looking at shutting down. They want to have illegal immigrants; in many cases, people that we don’t want in our country. They want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime."
Russia probe: The Latest
"Whistleblower: Flynn told colleague Russia sanctions would be 'ripped up'": "As President Donald Trump delivered his inaugural address, incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn texted his former business colleague about a plan to join Russia and build nuclear reactors in the Middle East: The project was "good to go," he told them, according to a summary of a whistleblower's account provided by a lawmaker."
"The business colleague who texted with Flynn later recounted that he also suggested sanctions against Russia would be "ripped up" as one of the administration's first acts, according to the whistleblower."
"Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, on Wednesday released his summary of the whistleblower's account detailing Flynn's conversations with colleagues as the Trump administration took power. The account provides the strongest claim yet that the administration was focused on unraveling the sanctions that President Barack Obama had just put in place and that Flynn had a personal motivation for doing so." (CNN)
"Donald Trump Jr. Refuses to Discuss Father-Son Talk With Investigators": "President Donald Trump’s eldest son on Wednesday refused to discuss with congressional investigators a father-son conversation earlier this year about how to handle fallout from revelations that he met with a Russian attorney during the 2016 campaign, according to people familiar with the matter."
"During the more than seven-hour session with the House Intelligence Committee, Donald Trump Jr. invoked attorney-client privilege when asked for details about a telephone conversation he had with his father after news broke about his meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, the people familiar with the matter said. The younger Mr. Trump has publicly said he met with the attorney to obtain negative information on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton." (Wall Street Journal)
"Republicans hammer Mueller, FBI as Russia investigation intensifies": "Republican activists and lawmakers are engaged in a multi-front attack on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of possible connections between associates of President Trump and Russian agents, trying to stop or curtail the investigation as it moves further into Trump’s inner circle."
..."Several conservative lawmakers held a news conference Wednesday demanding more details of how the FBI proceeded last year in its probes of Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email and Russian election interference. This week, the conservative group Judicial Watch released an internal Justice Department email that, the group said, showed political bias against Trump by one of Mueller’s senior prosecutors."
"Fresh ammunition came thisweekend, when it was revealed that Peter Strzok, the top FBI agent on Mueller’s team, had been removed over politically charged texts he’d exchanged with another former member of the Mueller team, senior FBI lawyer Lisa Page. The texts appeared to favor Clinton and disparage Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.
..."On Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) signed letters to the Justice Department and FBI demanding more information about Strzok’s communications." (Washington Post)
"Democrats place hold on McFarland nomination": "Democrats have placed a hold on the nomination of KT McFarland to be ambassador to Singapore until she answers their questions about her knowledge of communications between former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, a Democratic source told CNN."
"McFarland told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in written comments that she "was not aware" of any communications between Flynn and the Russian ambassador — an assertion that appears to be contradicted by court documents unsealed Friday after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI." (CNN)
Tax reform: "Republican leaders moved closer on Wednesday to resolving some key differences between the House and Senate tax bills, though several big issues, including the size of the corporate tax cut, remained in flux."
"As the Senate voted to begin the process of reconciling its tax bill with the House version, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, threw his support behind allowing a more generous state and local tax deduction in the final legislation."
..."Once the conference committee process begins, lawmakers will begin formally hashing out the remaining differences, including what to do about the corporate alternative minimum tax, which crept back into the Senate bill as a late addition. The chambers are also debating how to treat the deduction that many people take for high medical expenses, a provision that is repealed by the House but expanded by the Senate."
..."Lawmakers continued to debate whether to increase the corporate tax rate to 22 percent from the proposed 20 percent, an idea that President Trump appeared to support over the weekend. Mr. McConnell publicly remains cool to the idea. On Wednesday, Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the Republican chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, reiterated his support for a 20 percent corporate rate." (New York Times)
Jerusalem decision: "Jared Kushner is betting the house on a risky strategy that Middle East experts worry will derail any future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal — as well as what remains of the powerful son-in-law’s shrinking West Wing portfolio."
"He privately encouraged President Donald Trump’s announcement Wednesday that 'Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,' which was seen by some experts in the region as a setback for peace efforts led by Kushner and his small team. The group has made dozens of trips to the region and spent hours on listening tours, working to gain the trust of the Palestinians and the broader Arab world."
..."A person close to Kushner said he was forceful in his backing of the move. 'Encouraging would be an understatement,' the person said. 'It was him.'"
...."Privately, he told the president he backed the move, even as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis voiced their opposition, according to multiple officials and outside advisers involved with the administration’s Middle East plans." (Politico)
ME-SEN: "President Trump is pushing Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) to run for the U.S. Senate, according to White House advisers. Trump has told advisers that he plans to call LePage, who endorsed him in February 2016, and ask him to jump in against Sen. Angus King in 2018 and offer his endorsement. King is an independent who often caucuses with the Democrats.
..." LePage’s approval rating in Maine is at 42 percent, according to Morning Consult, ranking him the nation’s seventh-least popular governor. He has caught flak in Maine for controversial statements about minorities, threatening comments to a lawmaker in a voice-mail message and an assertion that he makes up stories to fool the political press, whom he castigates in personal terms." (Washington Post)
TN-SEN: "Former Gov. Phil Bredesen is entering the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. According to multiple sources, Bredesen[, a key Democratic recruit,] began calling major donors this afternoon to confirm that he is in the race. He has been mum about a campaign since U.S. Sen. Bob Corker announced he would step down next year, only acknowledging that he was contemplating a run. A formal announcement of his intent to run has not yet been made." (Nashville Post)
The President's Schedule
At 11:30am, President Donald Trump meets with a group of GOP senators.
At 1:30pm, Trump meets with Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel.
At 2:15pm, he signs a proclamation for National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, marking the 76th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, which is today.
At 3pm, he meets with the four top congressional leaders. "President Trump looks forward to a productive discussion with Republican and Democrat leadership," White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in a statement. "The President is pleased that Senator Schumer and Representative Pelosi have decided to put their responsibility to the American people above partisanship and attend [the] meeting, paving the way to fund our government and support our brave service men and woman who put their lives on the line every day."
At 4pm, the President meets with John Bolton, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush and was considered for a position in the Trump Administration during the transition.
Finally, at 7:30pm, President and First Lady Trump host a Hanukkah reception.
Today in Congress
The House meets at 10am today. The chamber is expected to debate and vote on a two-week CR to keep the governemnt open past Friday's deadline.
The Senate convenes at 10am as well. At 11am, Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) — who was appointed to fill Jeff Sessions' seat on an interim basis, and lost the special primary election to continue in the seat to Roy Moore — delivers his farewell address to the chamber.
At 11:45am, the Senate will begin debate on the nomination of Joseph Balash to be Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management, with a vote scheduled for about 12:30pm. Balash is the former Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, as well as a former aide to ex-Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK).
The Senate could also take action on the CR today, following passage in the House.
All times Eastern