with help from Sarah Ferris and Andrew Desiderio
STICKS AND STONE — And you thought the drama would end with impeachment. Yesterday, Justice Department officials stepped in and asked for a more lenient sentence for Roger Stone after the government initially recommended that he spend 7 to 9 years in prison for impeding congressional and FBI investigations into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The DOJ’s intervention prompted a fierce backlash, with all four federal prosecutors withdrawing from the case in what appears to be an extraordinary protest.
The backstory: The DOJ’s decision to overrule the stiff sentencing recommendation came after Trump repeatedly railed on the prosecutors for urging such a lengthy prison sentence for Stone. “I thought the recommendation was ridiculous. I thought the whole prosecution was ridiculous,” Trump told reporters. “I thought it was an insult to our country and it shouldn’t happen.” The president last night also lobbed attacks at Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the case and will ultimately sentence Stone; retweeted a post calling for pardons for Stone and Michael Flynn; and thanked Attorney General William Barr for taking charge. The latest from Josh Gerstein and Daniel Lippman: https://politi.co/39rbMeT.
And then there’s this: Trump withdrew the nomination of Jessie Liu to serve as the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, reports Axios. Liu, the former U.S. attorney for D.C., had led the office that oversaw Stone’s prosecution. Jonathan Swan with more: http://bit.ly/38qI6Pa.
The reaction from Dems: Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Trump of “political interference,” while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for the Inspector General to open an investigation into the DOJ’s actions. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, meanwhile, vowed to “get to the bottom” of the matter. And House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff called it a “blatant abuse of power.” But here’s the reality: Democrats know there is little, if anything, they can do to counter an emboldened, post-impeachment Trump. Kyle and Bres with the dispatch: https://politi.co/2vpoPie.
The reaction from Republicans: Not a whole lot. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had no comment, while other GOP lawmakers essentially responded with a collective shrug, writes WaPo. The story from Philip Rucker and Paul Kane: https://wapo.st/2SiBBbo.
Related reads: “White House expected to drop Pentagon nominee Elaine McCusker amid Ukraine fallout,” by The New York Post’s Steven Nelson: http://bit.ly/2vns2Pm; and “Trump Adviser Pushes Utah Congressman for Top Intelligence Post,” via NYT’s Julian E. Barnes, Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos: https://nyti.ms/2ON3Xsh.
PIVOT! PIVOT! PIV-OT! — Democrats are making their post-impeachment pivot, looking to pummel Trump on a new front: the economy. After last week’s acquittal, Democrats are privately hoping their message can break through and damage Trump as he heads into 2020 more emboldened than ever. And the shift in focus is welcome news for vulnerable and frontline Democrats who are desperate to turn the page on impeachment and finally start messaging on pocketbook issues like health care and the economy.
But there’s a catch: Democrats are still figuring out the best way to talk about positive numbers like low unemployment, wage hikes and a record Dow during Trump’s tenure — while arguing that it’s only helped the 1 percent. Even harder, Democrats have been advised not to simply try to credit Obama with the growing economy. Recent internal polling shows that a blame-game between the two parties actually loses in a head-to-head against Trump’s economic message.
To help fine-tune their messaging, Speaker Nancy Pelosi hosted a special meeting on Tuesday with a top Obama economics adviser to explain to Democrats why the economy isn’t actually as strong as Trump claims and how they can message that to voters. But Democratic leaders are still facing some pressure within their caucus to continue investigating Trump on matters related to the Ukraine scandal, while there are several pending court cases that could force them to return to investigative matters. Much more from Heather and Sarah: https://politi.co/2uvmNNE.
In other Pelosi news … “Pelosi pays up on Super Bowl bet as Cleaver predicts Chiefs championship repeat,” from the Kansas City Star’s Bryan Lowry: http://bit.ly/38lTnjF.
BERN-ING UP THE CHARTS — Bernie Sanders’ strong back-to-back performances in Iowa and New Hampshire — coupled with Joe Biden’s disappointing finishes — are raising an interesting question: will Democrats unify behind Sanders if he becomes the eventual nominee? On Capitol Hill, frontline and vulnerable Democrats are starting to grow nervous about the idea. In fact, some frontliners are refusing to support Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren. The Hill’s Scott Wong and Cristina Marcos explore: http://bit.ly/37gn2Jv.
Related: “‘Blood in the water’: Biden campaign reels after New Hampshire trouncing,” from Natasha Korecki, Marc Caputo and Maya King: https://politi.co/31KtbN8.
HAPPY HUMP DAY! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this Wednesday, February 12. Bipartisanship might be dead on Capitol Hill, but at least bro-partisanship is still alive and well!
TUESDAY’S MOST CLICKED: USA TODAY’s write-up of a new impeachment poll was the big winner.
NO REPERCUSSIONS FOR ROMNEY — Sure, Trump and his allies are publicly trashing Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) for his impeachment vote — and some have even called to expel him from the GOP conference. And yes, the conservative media is portraying him as a traitor. But it seems Romney has escaped any real form of retaliation in the wake of the Senate trial, at least from his GOP colleagues in the Senate.
Romney is still on the GOP leadership’s whip team and even told Burgess he had his “whip card out to whip another piece of legislation.” There was no mention of his vote during a closed-door lunch. And there hasn’t been any support for kicking Romney out of the GOP conference. “The president’s going to do what he’s going to do. That’s his M.O. when it comes to politics, and that’s not going to change no matter what any of us think or feel,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “But it won’t change [Romney’s] standing in the Senate.” The story: https://politi.co/38l8B8D.
Related: “Romney suggests Senate GOP has moved on following his vote to convict Trump,” by WaPo’s Paul Kane: https://wapo.st/2UJgAbu.
MAKE IT REIN — It was on the backburner during the impeachment trial, but the Senate is finally set to vote this week on Sen. Tim Kaine’s War Powers resolution aimed at restraining the president’s authority to attack Iran. Right before the trial started, Democrats and several Republicans raised concerns about the administration’s justification — both strategic and legal — for the airstrike that killed top Iranian general Qassim Soleimani.
It’s what spurred enough GOP support for Kaine’s War Powers resolution, which is expected to clear the 51-vote threshold this week with all 47 Democrats and at least five Republicans slated to vote for it. “The logic of the idea just gets more and more persuasive the more time that elapses after 9/11,” Kaine said in an interview. Kaine’s bill would require Trump to cease all hostilities targeting Iran within 30 days unless explicitly approved by Congress.
And although it’s almost certain to be met with a Trump veto, the vote itself will further expose the long-standing foreign policy divisions within the Republican Party — and it will result in yet another bipartisan rebuke of Trump’s foreign policy. Senate GOP leaders vehemently oppose Kaine’s measure — but it’s a privileged resolution, meaning that Kaine is able to force a debate on the issue later today, with a final vote expected tomorrow. Andrew and Marianne have more on what to expect: https://politi.co/2w6tl5y.
On the other side of the Capitol … “House votes to establish Smithsonian women’s history museum on the National Mall,” by Nicholas Wu of USA TODAY: http://bit.ly/38l4Ik1; and “Panel sends DC statehood bill to full House for consideration,” via CNN’s Devan Cole: https://cnn.it/2SQYAtl.
CHOOSE YOUR FIGHTER — The House GOP has selected two of Trump’s fiercest attack dogs to serve as the top Republicans on a pair of key congressional committees, placing the lawmakers directly on the frontlines of beating back Democratic oversight efforts. Yesterday, the full GOP conference approved Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) to be the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee and retiring Rep. Mark Meadows (N.C.) to be the ranking member on the Oversight Committee. “Jordan has done an excellent job,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy’s blessing is just the latest example of how far his relationship with Jordan and Meadows has come: Jordan challenged McCarthy for minority leader in 2018. And Jordan and Meadows, co-founders of the House Freedom Caucus, were long a thorn in the side of GOP leadership when Republicans were in the majority. But McCarthy’s newfound alliance with the duo — which started when Trump won the White House but has only strengthened in the minority — is sure to earn the minority leader some major points with conservatives down the road. The story from your Huddle host: https://politi.co/2Snoo18.
Related: “No longer GOP pariahs, Freedom Caucus members earn top committee slots,” from Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson: http://bit.ly/31XOgUx.
GOING ALL IN FOR GRANGER — Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the highest ranking woman in GOP leadership, is trying to boost a fellow female Republican who is facing a primary threat. Cheney is supporting Rep. Kay Granger’s (R-Texas) re-election bid, sending an email to the members of Winning For Women calling Granger “a champion for the President” and “an important partner of mine in Washington in fighting back against the Left’s dangerous agenda.” Granger, the top Republican on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, is being challenged by technology executive Chris Putnam, who has the support of the conservative Club for Growth. The Daily Caller’s Shelby Talcott has more: http://bit.ly/2SCtyoO.
Related: “Former CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera will challenge Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in House Democratic primary,’ by CNBC’s Mike Calia and Eamon Javers: https://cnb.cx/2ONlPmG.
ENGAGED! … Kyle Noyes, who works for the House Committee on Homeland Security, proposed on Sunday night to Katharine Cooksey, who works for Cavalry LLC and was formerly with the U.S. Chamber and the Ways & Means Committee. He proposed at the Capitol, where they met as interns in 2014, and afterward, they celebrated their engagement with friends at St. Anselm. Pic.
Five former Cory Booker campaign staffers are moving to his Senate office, four of them returning to their pre-campaign roles. Matt Klapper will be COS, Tamia Booker will be deputy COS, Jeff Giertz will be communications director, Sarah Rojas will be director of special projects, and Andrew Serrano will be director of scheduling.
Lewis Plush, formerly a legislative assistant with Rep. Vern Buchanan’s office (R-Fla.) is now an associate director of legislative affairs at National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions (NAFCU).
Justin Melvin is now Rep. David Kustoff’s chief of staff. He previously was deputy chief of staff for Kustoff (R-Tenn).
Ryan Kelly is now press secretary for Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). He previously worked at the House Administration Committee.
The House gavels in at 10 a.m., with first and last votes between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. Today’s agenda: http://bit.ly/2SGL5vW.
The Senate meets at 9:30 a.m. to resume consideration of the nomination of Joshua Kindred to be U.S. District Judge for the District of Alaska. At 10:30 a.m., senators will vote on confirmation of Kindred’s nomination, along with that of three others.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and members of the Democratic Women’s Caucus will hold a press event on the House’s upcoming vote to remove the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment at 11:30 a.m. in H-207.
TUESDAY’S WINNER: Carlton Huffman was the first person to correctly guess that Henry Cabot Lodge and Lyndon B. Johnson are the only two candidates to have won the New Hampshire primary as a write-in.
TODAY’S QUESTION: From Carlton: Disney has played host to American Presidents on many occasions. But which future President, and personal friend of Walt Disney, was a co-anchor for the national broadcast for the Grand Opening of Disneyland in Anaheim? The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your best guess my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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