POLITICO Playbook: Trump’s next secretary of State search is on
SIREN — WAPO’S JOSH ROGIN: “Trump is already searching for his next secretary of state”: “The person most often mentioned to succeed [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo is national security adviser Robert O’Brien. Trump really likes O’Brien, several officials told me, and has given him increased diplomatic responsibilities since he became the president’s fourth national security adviser in September. O’Brien stood in for Trump at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Thailand in October. He accompanied Vice President Pence and Pompeo to Turkey to negotiate a Syria cease-fire. …
“The other main contender at this point is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Some officials believe Mnuchin is angling for the job, and some say he is simply in contention but not actively lobbying. Either way, he’s on the list. Mnuchin is very close to Trump personally and has been treasury secretary for almost three years.” WaPo
AND MITCH MCCONNELL SMILES … CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER FRONT PAGE: “Trump remakes federal judiciary: Together with McConnell, the president has ensured a conservative tilt for decades”
BERNIE: HE CAN WIN! … HOLLY OTTERBEIN and DAVID SIDERS: “In private conversations and on social media, Democratic officials, political operatives and pundits are reconsidering Sanders’ chances.
“‘It may have been inevitable that eventually you would have two candidates representing each side of the ideological divide in the party. A lot of smart people I’ve talked to lately think there’s a very good chance those two end up being Biden and Sanders,’ said David Brock, a longtime Hillary Clinton ally who founded a pro-Clinton super PAC in the 2016 campaign. ‘They’ve both proven to be very resilient.’
“Democratic insiders said they are rethinking Sanders’ bid for a few reasons: First, Warren has recently fallen in national and early state surveys. Second, Sanders has withstood the ups and downs of the primary, including a heart attack. At the same time, other candidates with once-high expectations, such as Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke, have dropped out or languished in single digits in the polls.” POLITICO
— NYT: “Why Bernie Sanders Is Tough to Beat,” by Sydney Ember in Garner, Iowa: “With less than six weeks until voting begins, the loyalty Mr. Sanders commands has turned him into a formidable contender in the 2020 race. Despite having a heart attack in October that threatened to derail his second quest for the Democratic nomination, he remains at or near the top of polls in Iowa and other early states, lifted by his near ubiquitous name recognition and an enviable bank account.”
L.A. TIMES FRONT: “Booker is clinging to promise in Iowa” … Story, with online headline: “With so much promise, why is Cory Booker’s campaign falling flat?”
Good Friday morning.
BIG NYT STORY — “Behind a U.A.W. Crisis: Lavish Meals and Luxury Villas,” by Noam Scheiber and Neal Boudette: “On a single day in December 2015, Gary Jones, who resigned last month as president of the United Automobile Workers, spent more than $13,000 of the union’s money at a cigar store in Arizona. His purchases included a dozen $268 boxes of Ashton Double Magnums and a dozen boxes of Ashton Monarchs at $274.50 each. ‘Hi Gary, Thank you & Happy New Year,’ read a handwritten note from the store.
“The purchases, documented by a federal complaint filed against a union leader in September, were part of more than $60,000 in cigars and cigar paraphernalia that Mr. Jones and other U.A.W. officials expensed to the union between 2014 and 2018. And the cigar purchases were in turn just a small portion of the roughly $1 million in union money that court filings say U.A.W. officials spent on golf outings, four-figure dinners and monthslong villa rentals during regular retreats in Palm Springs, Calif., and elsewhere.
“The scandal comes on top of an investigation into company and union officials’ improper use of millions of dollars from a joint Fiat Chrysler-U.A.W. training center. Mr. Jones’s predecessor as president, Dennis Williams, is accused of encouraging the use of Fiat Chrysler funds meant for worker education as a way to pay for the extravagant spending in Palm Springs and other places.” NYT
— MEANWHILE … DETROIT NEWS: “Auto factory towns prepare for what’s next after closures”
MARKET WATCH — “Global Stocks Follow U.S. Markets Higher,” by WSJ’s Anna Hirtenstein: “Global markets edged up in low-volume trading on Friday, after U.S. stocks touched new records on signs of a strong Christmas retail season and easing trade tensions.” WSJ
WHAT THEY’RE READING IN MECKLENBURG COUNTY … CHARLOTTE OBSERVER FRONT PAGE: “Trump prepares steep tariff on French wines in 2020”
THE FUTURE OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY? — HOLLY OTTERBEIN in Los Angeles: “AOC for president? The buzz has begun”: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was campaigning for Bernie Sanders at a jampacked beach-side rally last week when she took a moment to look beyond 2020. ‘I know, and we all know, that this isn’t just about Bernie Sanders,’ she said. ‘This is about a movement that has been decades in the making.’
“Since endorsing him in October, Ocasio-Cortez has become a supercharged surrogate for Sanders in early-voting and delegate-rich states. As she’s drawn massive crowds alongside the Vermont senator in Iowa, Nevada, California and New York, progressive insiders and activists are increasingly whispering about Ocasio-Cortez inheriting the movement one day — and running for the White House with it behind her.
“‘The future of the Democratic Party is not Pete Buttigieg. It’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,’ said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of the California Young Democrats, which has endorsed Sanders. ‘She has gripped the attention of fellow millennials across the country. The Green New Deal has changed the conversation on environmental action in the Democratic Party.’” POLITICO
FOR YOUR RADAR — “Russia commissions intercontinental hypersonic weapon,” by AP’s Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow: “Russia’s defense minister reported to President Vladimir Putin that a new hypersonic weapon of intercontinental range became operational Friday following years of tests. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed Putin that the first missile unit equipped with the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle entered combat duty, the Defense Ministry said.”
PHILLY INQUIRER FRONT PAGE: “In Van Drew, GOP embraces a former foe”: “David Richter has been removed from the National Republican Campaign Committee’s ‘Young Guns’ program, which spotlights and aids promising GOP House candidates. Two campaign consultants have left Richter’s team. Republican strategists who once railed against Van Drew for his ‘socialist views’ are now trying to clear the field for him. ‘A week and a half ago I was a front-runner,’ Richter said. ‘Now I’m being treated like a pariah by my own party.’” Philly Inquirer
HOUSTON CHRONICLE: “Trump gave states power to admit refugees. As other GOP governors sign on, Abbott is silent,” by Lomi Kriel: “For years, more refugees have resettled in Houston and Texas than any other city or state in the country.
“Now that may end. Under a new requirement imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration, state and local governments must consent in writing before refugees can arrive next year. At least 34 governors, including 13 Republicans, and 86 county and city executives have given their approval.
“Mayors and county leaders of all Texas’ biggest cities —including Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin — sent letters opting in. But Gov. Greg Abbott, who has [led] efforts to block Syrian refugees and withdrew from the federal resettlement program in a largely symbolic move in 2016, has not. If he does not agree, no refugees could be placed in the state, despite what local authorities may want.” Houston Chronicle
2020 WATCH …
— CNN’S DAN MERICA: “Democratic candidates get personal on the campaign trail”
— “Mike Bloomberg is trying to convince big-money Democratic donors that he can win in 2020, even though he isn’t taking their money,” by CNBC’s Brian Schwartz: “Bloomberg and his team made their pitch Dec. 19 to at least 90 attendees, including many New York business executives, at a breakfast at his campaign headquarters in New York, according to people who attended. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity due [to] the conversations being deemed private.
“According to the people, Bloomberg himself prodded the financiers to open up their donor networks to the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic parties. Bloomberg donated more than $106,000 to the DNC in November, according to the group’s most recent filing. Bloomberg aides, however, focused on which states his campaign aimed to win in his quest for the Democratic nomination and the chance to take on President Donald Trump in 2020, according to the people.
“The aides showed a map highlighting Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as states Bloomberg could pick up during the primary. Those states’ primary contests are scheduled for March and April of next year.” CNBC
— AP: “Iowa swung fiercely to Trump. Will it swing back in 2020?” by Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines: “[A]s Democrats turn their focus to Iowa’s kickoff caucuses that begin the process of selecting Trump’s challenger, could the state be showing furtive signs of swinging back? Caucus turnout will provide some early measures of Democratic enthusiasm, and of what kind of candidate Iowa’s Democratic voters — who have a good record of picking the Democratic nominee — believe has the best chance against Trump.
“If Iowa’s rightward swing has stalled, it could be a foreboding sign for Trump in other upper Midwestern states he carried by much smaller margins and would need to win again. ‘They’ve gone too far to the right and there is the slow movement back,’ Tom Vilsack, the only two-term Democratic governor in the past 50 years, said of Republicans. ‘This is an actual correction.’” AP
— WAPO: “Hispanic voters are growing in power. Why are Democratic presidential candidates ignoring them?” by Sean Sullivan: “Hispanics are increasingly influential in the Democratic Party and in general election contests, but leaders and activists say they feel ignored and misunderstood by candidates who have spent much of their time focusing on Iowa and New Hampshire, predominantly white states at the top of the nominating calendar. They are bluntly calling on party leaders to reconsider the voting order of the states in four years.” WaPo
TRUMP’S FRIDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule.
SUNDAY SO FAR …
“Face the Nation”: Ivanka Trump … Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) … Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). Panel: Nancy Cordes, Major Garrett, Jeff Pegues, Paula Reid, Jan Crawford and David Martin.
“Meet the Press” (a special “Alternative Facts” edition): Dean Baquet and Marty Baron … Clint Watts … Masha Gessen and Michael McFaul. Panel: Kara Swisher, Joshua Johnson, Susan Glasser and Matthew Continetti.
“Fox News Sunday” (with guest host Mike Emanuel): Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). Panel: Jason Chaffetz, Marie Harf, Chris Stirewalt and Charles Lane. “Fox News Sunday: Power Player Hall of Fame” will air at 7 p.m. Sunday with Chris Wallace.
“State of the Union”: Panel: Scott Jennings, Karen Finney, Sarah Isgur and Nayyera Haq.
“This Week”: national security adviser Robert O’Brien … Andrew Yang. Panel: Rick Klein, Chris Christie, Stefanie Brown James and Susan Davis.
“Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren”: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai … Cat Zakrzewski.
“America This Week with Eric Bolling”: Phil Robertson … Katrina Pierson … Craig Shirley … Rachel Bovard. Panel: Ameshia Cross and Hannah Cox.
WHAT THE’RE READING IN LANGLEY … NATASHA BERTRAND: “Intel probe puts CIA’s Haspel in a bind”: “The prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Bill Barr to examine the origins of the Russia investigation is focusing much of his attention on the CIA, placing the agency’s director, Gina Haspel, at the center of a politically toxic tug-of-war between the Justice Department and the intelligence community.
“The prosecutor, John Durham, has reportedly asked the CIA for former director John Brennan’s communications as he examines the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment that concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened in the election specifically to help Donald Trump. Barr has been skeptical of the agency’s conclusions about Putin’s motivations, despite corroboration by the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee and an adversarial review by former CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
“But intelligence community veterans say the Durham probe could force Haspel to choose between protecting her agency from Trump’s wrath and bowing to Barr’s wishes; they point to FBI chief Chris Wray, who has found himself at odds with the president in recent weeks over a watchdog report about the bureau’s conduct in the Russia probe.
“And they say the Barr-Durham probe represents overreach by an attorney general who seems to have already made up his mind and is bent on imposing his own skeptical view of the Russia investigation on the intelligence community.” POLITICO
SCOOP … REUTERS’ MARK HOSENBALL: “FBI investigates Briton, others for Epstein links”: “The FBI is investigating British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell and several other people linked to U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, according to two law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation.
“They said a principal focus of the FBI’s investigation is Maxwell, a longtime associate of Epstein, and other ‘people who facilitated’ Epstein’s allegedly illegal behavior.
“Maxwell has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing. Her lawyers did not respond to a request for comment.” Reuters
A HEADLINE POTUS WILL LIKE — “Rank-and-File Workers Get Bigger Raises,” by WSJ’s Eric Morath and Jeffrey Sparshott: “Rank-and-file workers are getting bigger raises this year—at least in percentage terms—than bosses.
“Wages for the typical worker—nonsupervisory employees who account for 82% of the workforce—are rising at the fastest rate in more than a decade, a sign that the labor market has tightened sufficiently to convey bigger pay increases to lower-paid employees. Gains for those workers have accelerated much of this year, a time when the unemployment rate fell to a half-century low. A short supply of workers, increased poaching and minimum-wage increases have helped those nearer to the bottom of the pay scale.
“Pay for the bottom 25% of wage earners rose 4.5% in November from a year earlier, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Wages for the top 25% of earners rose 2.9%. Similarly, the Atlanta Fed found wages for low-skilled workers have accelerated since early 2018, and last month matched the pace of high-skill workers for the first time since 2010.” WSJ
REUTERS/MANILA: “Philippines bans two U.S. senators, mulls new visa rules for Americans”: “President Rodrigo Duterte will impose a requirement on U.S. nationals to get visas should any Philippine officials involved in the incarceration of Senator Leila de Lima be denied entry to the United States, as sought by U.S. senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy.
“Duterte’s move comes after the U.S. Congress approved a 2020 budget that contains a provision introduced by the senators against anyone involved in holding de Lima, who was charged with drug offences in early 2017 after she led an investigation into mass killings during Duterte’s notorious anti-drugs crackdown.”
SAD NEWS — “American University of Afghanistan could close next year if federal funding is cut,” by CNN’s Kylie Atwood: “The American University of Afghanistan is drawing up plans to shut down next year, a casualty of anticipated US government budget slashing of the school’s steady stream of funding, three sources familiar with the planning tell CNN.
“The university is widely regarded as a top university in Afghanistan and the only one that provides a Western-style education. Established in 2006, the school now has a student body that is about half female and presents an important opportunity for women, who the Taliban once forbid from going to school. Many of its graduates have gone on to serve in the Afghan government.
“The university relies on the US Agency for International Development for more than 60% of its budget and could not operate without the agency’s financial backing. The school has been unable to secure assurance from the agency that it will continue funding the school. The current funding will last through May.” CNN
TV TONIGHT — Bob Costa sits down with WBUR’s Kimberly Atkins, PBS NewsHour’s Amna Nawaz and WaPo’s Bob Woodward at 8 p.m. on PBS’ “Washington Week.”
MEDIAWATCH … NYT’S DAVID BROOKS: “The Media Is Broken”
— CLOSING TUESDAY: “Newseum hailed free press, but got beaten by free museums,” by AP’s Ashraf Khalil