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‘Right-Hand Woman’ to Trump, Fiona Hill, to Testify Before House on Impeachment

Senior White House adviser and “right-hand person” to President Donald Trump, Fiona Hill, is said to be a witness for Democrats in their push to impeach Trump, The New York Times reports. Hill is expected to testify Thursday at a closed-door, closed-door hearing by the Judiciary Committee, according to the report.

Hill, 46, served as the National Security Council’s director for multilateral affairs and human rights under Barack Obama and worked in the Office of the U.S. Special Envoy to Syria under Hillary Clinton. She most recently served as the NSC’s senior director for European and Eurasian affairs.

Before joining the administration, Hill worked as a policy analyst in the George W. Bush administration. At the time of her departure, she told the Times, she was given a title “not unlike the title ‘petty’-something like that.”

In the article, Hill is quoted as saying, “The environment, from our perspective, was not conducive to ideas. It was about details, about agreements, not about history.”

The two former U.S. secretaries of state with whom Hill worked in the Bush administration—Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice—are also expected to testify, according to the Times.

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Trump Expelling Russian Diplomat Known as ‘Mr. 45’

HUNTSVILLE, Iowa — President Donald Trump fired the first salvo in his potential 2020 reelection campaign on Wednesday, expelling the Russian diplomat known as “Mister 45” after reports that he advised Ukraine in recent months to use force against Russian-backed separatists.

Joseph Skowronski, a former Russian diplomat who was assigned to the U.S. embassy in Kiev, was the first diplomat to be expelled under Trump’s sanctions against Russia. He is expected to lose his diplomatic post but will retain his status as a U.S. citizen.

Skowronski, who is in his late 50s, and his wife have three children in the United States. “I wish to reassure my American friends and family, including my children, that I have not been involved in the well-being or political affairs of the United States,” he said in a statement.

Skowronski has been out of a job since Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine twice attacked Ukrainian military installations in June and July. Russia has blamed the attacks on Ukrainian forces, and denounced the airstrikes as “acts of aggression.”

Late last month, according to the New York Times, Skowronski told Ukranian officials that the sanctions against Russia had stalled the negotiations to end the fighting, which has killed more than 10,000 people. The article was first reported on Wednesday by the website FAS.

Spokesmen for Trump and the Ukrainian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment on the report.

Skowronski is an unusually high-profile target of Trump’s sanctions, and the first to be removed on orders of the president, who has levied a set of penalties against Russia, primarily as punishment for its use of military force in eastern Ukraine.

An Iranian who was appointed ambassador to the United States by former President Barack Obama, Skowronski was a main architect of a U.S. agreement with Moscow under which Russia entered into one of the strictest agreements of its kind. “In so many words, he was the face of the Obama administration in Eastern Europe,” said Brendan O’Connor, who represented Ukraine before the U.S. State Department during the negotiations.

Trump last year signed a law that expanded sanctions against Russia after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and its incursion into eastern Ukraine. The law gave Trump the power to prohibit any U.S. person from engaging in new banking and other transactions with him unless he submitted specific information indicating that the transactions would be in U.S. national security or financial interest.

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GOP seeks to distract from looming Trump impeachment debate

The Trump administration on Wednesday organized a flurry of separate events promoting the president’s tax cut and the roaring economy, part of the Republican strategy to undercut the debate over impeaching the president over his sacking of the FBI director.

Responding to growing Democratic opposition to the administration’s policy toward immigrants and to the president’s comments about the midterm elections, lawmakers of both parties pushed back against the idea that Trump could be impeached. But some Republicans also acknowledged that the president’s prospects for averting removal from office were faltering.

“For him to be removed, two-thirds of both chambers would have to vote to remove him,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on a call with reporters on Wednesday. Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said he did not think that would happen.

Nevertheless, Cornyn called for impeachment hearings, so that House Republicans could defend the president’s actions, as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., did Wednesday in a debate on a Senate floor.

Other Republicans went further. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said on the same Senate floor that the time has come to revisit the issue of impeachment. Kennedy, a former federal prosecutor, said he believed the only two violations that would justify removal from office are obstruction of justice and bribery.

But he went on to say that other grounds, including racial discrimination, suggest “the proper remedy” would be to find that the president might be “incapable of discharging the duties of his office.”

The GOP efforts come as growing numbers of Republican lawmakers, still worried about prospects for control of the House, start hearing that one of the top impeachment tools could disappear from their toolbox. The sweeping tax cuts that Congress enacted at the end of 2017 would require that money be set aside each year from the government’s budget surplus to cover a deep reduction in the tax burdens of wealthy people. There has been bipartisan agreement for a decade that the Clinton-era “bailout of the rich” had contributed to the budget deficit. Republicans now favor reverting to the policy of expanding the budget surplus to cover tax cuts for the middle class.

Republicans, who had hoped their tax cuts would do enough to improve public perceptions of the economy to help them win House control in 2018, were unprepared when the tax cuts later led to an outsized budget deficit that threatens to force a showdown between Trump and congressional Democrats. At best, Republicans now acknowledge, it is unlikely that the tax cuts and the increasing budget deficit can be offset by undoing the tax cuts or cutting domestic programs.

Last week, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, laid out a plan with other moderate Republicans to put a stick in the spokes of the impeachment debate, arguing that the rising budget deficit did not justify impeachment.

“It was an extraordinary accomplishment” to pass the tax cuts last year, Collins said in an interview Wednesday. She said that while she supported investigations of the Trump administration’s conduct, and urged Democrats to do the same, “I don’t think it’s going to be productive” to talk about impeachment now.

Collins and her Republican allies offered legislation this week that would exempt most of the federal government’s $12 trillion worth of bonds from the proposed cuts in the budget. While Republicans hope that Republicans in the House would be able to send the legislation to Trump’s desk, it is unclear whether it would win enough Democratic support to advance.

“You know, I could count on one hand,” Cornyn said, if he had the votes to repeal all the tax cuts in the short term, even though this “would increase the deficit by billions of dollars.”

Norman Ornstein, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said it was possible that a “couple dozen” Republicans in the House might take that route. But if they did, it might be too late to forestall impeachment. “There’s only a 20 percent chance it would pass the Senate, and a 30 percent chance it would be repealed by presidential veto,” Ornstein said.

Trump has often said that the Senate might decide to remove him, and Republican leaders say privately that they are willing to consider such an unprecedented scenario, if necessary.

But Graham acknowledged Wednesday that more than one Republican or even both parties might have to agree for a president to be removed from office, so a filibuster might be needed.

“All this business about what I call the congressional thugs come down to a reality where there’s two ways it can happen,” Graham said. “One is, if we’re lucky,

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Rick Scott refers to Andrew Gillum as Andrew Gillum again in fiery debate

Rick Scott tried the now-familiar line of attack in a stark state to campaign for statewide office that he’s doing a poor job as governor, according to the harsh words that emerged from last night’s debate.

The Republican governor on Wednesday repeated a familiar line of attack against his opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum, accusing him of not having delivered on key reforms he had promised to deliver by his second anniversary.

And Gov. Ron DeSantis seemed to echo that line when he said: “In just two years, four major legislative sessions, 2,000 appointments across the state, that’s eight different initiatives in 32 months. The list just keeps getting longer and longer and longer.”

He contrasted that to what Gillum described as the governor’s deep commitment to free college, his call for universal pre-K, the “commonsense protections” of auto insurance rates.

Here are a few of the chief differences:

Scott pointed to charter schools as having been ineffective and said they have a weak record on teacher performance.

Gillum called for more charter schools and expanded students’ involvement in the school building program that might give them a shot at transferring to higher performance schools.

Both men said they were most proud of trying to address the sanctuary city ordinance and supporting voting rights, among others.

Scott revealed that while he was at Goldman Sachs on a state consulting job in 2001 when he was blasted in the media for racy tweets sent while he was governor, he never resigned.

DeSantis – the former congressman who was elected in November – said he did not know Scott or even met him while he was in Washington D.C.

The candidates appeared to have little to say in response to a moderator’s question about what they thought of the president.

On a lighter note, Gillum, a Democrat and Tallahassee mayor, compared the GOP attack on the universal health care law “Obamacare” to 1950s censorship.

The transcript provided to the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald reads:

“OK, you’re not getting Obamacare to privatize our healthcare anymore – we understand – and we understand. We know the American people are tired of Obamacare, and my opponent wants to repeal it, which means it’s going to repeal itself. It’s going to put that healthcare right back out of the hands of the American people.

“I guess what I want to know, Andrew, is if we go back to a single-payer healthcare system, you’re going to prohibit people from taking insurance with a doctor they like, with a plan that fits their needs? We made a mistake at the last time with the Affordable Care Act. So I’m going to stand up, too, for what we did under Obamacare but want to continue to improve it.”

The Times and Herald both had the debate-related debate transcripts in their paper Wednesday.

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Shots fired at the Koh, Trump-Murkowski axis

× Expand David Sharos

The trail of peas led us to the provincials.

Something meant to be natural, three Wisconsin movers and shakers joined together as a collage in the attic of yet another school, to sing off-key folk standards to a much younger performer, a college student named Ned Waite. Perhaps the function of this act was to teach this young man about the value of coffee, but that seems unlikely since Waite was able to drink himself into so much tooth decay.

This three-way embarrassment was the social history of the early 1970s. It begins with Harold Koh, who in 1963 delivered his first Harvard Law Review article. It ends with Harold Koh, who opened his first law office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1969. It ends with Harold Koh, who today works on the Supreme Court.

Koh became notorious over the summer for this union, which probably should not have gone down as it did. With the world’s attention turned to who will be the next U.S. ambassador to China, Koh used this shift to negotiate his new gig. He famously lobbied several veteran Republican senators for a meeting, promising anything he could find to grease the wheels. That includes firing off emails and telephone calls praising President Trump for appointing someone so qualified.

“Our country is getting an incredible lawyer. He’ll do a great job,” Koh, a Yale Law School alum, told Virginia Republican Tim Kaine on Tuesday.

The power of this kind of positive thinking should not be underestimated. Koh’s congratulations warmed the heart of Republican senators who already had a healthy appreciation for Koh’s contributions to American justice and social justice. “I want to tell you personally, I support you,” Republican Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Koh on Tuesday. “I’m honored that you want to do this job.”

Koh, who sat down with me over drinks the other day, would have been excused if he had suspected that some politicians would use this dramatic example as a bargaining chip, and perhaps even an excuse to offer nice things for other reasons. He doesn’t. Koh is chipper,” he told me during the Sunday night interview, and he seemed ready to accept the implications of the Trump-Koh deal. “I’m quite happy to serve the president,” he said. “If I get the job, I’ll work to help him get things done for the American people.”

Were they not friends? A reporter greeted Koh in front of Starbucks the other day, and since Koh declined to identify his friends, the reporter asked the obvious question. It was too late to start afresh, so a member of my crew, reacting before my lips could lock into a smile, asked Koh directly. “Are you friends with Lisa Murkowski?” he said.

“I’ve known her for a long time,” Koh said. And with that, he shooed his reporter toward the unmarked door of Starbucks.

Back to the state of Wisconsin. I first met Koh in 1992. He was in my office, interviewing a candidate for director of the state’s Division of Violence Against Women, the state’s prosecution agency for abuse cases. As I watched him take notes, I realized that Koh was best understood as a Supreme Court lawyer, and it was clear to me that he should be a leading voice in the state’s courts. So I invited him to a coffee in the Capitol basement, and he agreed. We have been good friends ever since.

Koh told me he has been seeking the position of U.S. ambassador to China, but there were no obvious favorites, and no obvious obstacles. Nobody could commit to the other side of the country, and no other advocates could show as much promise. “I felt a willingness to work out a deal that I could agree to,” he said.

It’s too bad that Sondheim and Waite didn’t live to see this deal actually get done.

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Other Republicans want to answer Bill Gardner’s question: What are the electability tests of the Democratic Party?

Bill Gardner is a Brown University political scientist with a reputation for being one of the Bay Area’s smarter political thinkers. Lately, he’s also been advising Republican donors who want more candidate debates — including a Republican candidate who wants to make a “electability” argument about how he’d perform in a hypothetical race against Democratic nominees for president.

“We’re sending the message that you need to get more Republicans involved, and that you need to listen to them in the primary,” Gardner said.

Also See: Who’s That Man in the Dem Debate? (From What We Can Tell)

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What’s more, Gardner said, the GOP has taken cues from Democrats’ campaigns when it comes to engaging voters on electability. More than two dozen Democratic candidates — with different messages — debated last week in Nevada, nearly three years before the 2020 election. More debates, Gardner argued, help GOP candidates shore up their favorability ratings ahead of the campaign’s later stages.

“The Republicans should be more active in using the success of the Clinton campaign to ask themselves, ‘What are the tests the Democrats have used to challenge the Republicans?’” Gardner said. “The Democrats did this. The Democrats got caught up in tests that people have used.”

Democrats, in contrast, have mostly used tests to set up “poll after poll after poll” against Republican candidates, Gardner said. They’ve done so, he added, to “prove a point,” rather than in pursuit of a single outcome.

Greg Guterbock, a political consultant and one of the Republican candidates in the debate in Las Vegas, said that “electability” is just one of several arguments he would use to argue that he’d be a better candidate. He cited his voting record, his and his family’s history with Republicans, and his experience in government and business.

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“A lot of people are focused on who’s electable, but there’s other kinds of things that I think is also important,” he said.

From their vantage point at The New York Times, reporters have followed Republican presidential candidates on their pre-debate road shows — including a group of wealthy GOP donors who met privately with Trump last week to discuss an endorsement, and announced after the event that they would back him if he won the nomination. Those candidates are stepping up their efforts, trying to demonstrate their appeal to party regulars, especially those in Iowa, where the first caucus next year is taking place.

Not all Republicans are so eager to take this kind of approach, however. Despite the array of candidates vying for their votes, many say that it’s wiser, at this stage, to focus on defining themselves to a party they hope is unsettled by the rancor now infecting the Democratic contest.

Other Republican hopefuls, particularly former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, are trying to use the debates to convince GOP voters that Trump is the candidate who can save the party. And the quest to convince Republican donors to back candidates who they think may do well in a general election has already become a popular topic of conversation.

Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, for instance, has argued that Trump’s potential challengers for the GOP nomination should hold a debate in Iowa, where a general election is likely to be held. It was perhaps fitting, then, that a Republican candidate she backed in New York’s recent congressional primary ended up losing to a Democrat she did not support.