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Vulnerable Democrats line up behind impeachment

ONE NATION, UNDER MODS Democrats were ready to lose a half-dozen members on impeachment — but it looks like the number of defections could be even less than that. As the historic and politically tough vote draws near, vulnerable and moderate Democrats have lined up behind impeachment one by one. Over the last 24 hours, we have seen Reps. Anthony Brindisi, Elissa Slotkin, Chrissy Houlahan, Joe Cunningham, Ben McAdams, Jason Crow, Andy Kim and Abigail Spanberger all hop off the fence and into the pro-impeachment camp. It’s a politically risky move, but many of them feel like President Donald Trump left them no choice.

Particularly notable: Brindisi and McAdams. Both won districts where Trump won by more than five points. And both were widely expected by their colleagues to vote against impeachment articles on the floor. Their surprising support provides a much-needed boost for Democrats, who are still reeling from Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s decision to leave the party over impeachment. Some worried that his party switch might spook other moderates, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Much more from Sarah:

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Speaking of Van Drew… his decision to leave the Democratic party did not come out of the blue. For weeks, the GOP had been quietly lobbying him to join their ranks. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) approached him about it on the House floor, Trump talked to Van Drew on the phone and in person, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke to him about it and even Kellyanne Conway tried to meet with him at one point. The campaign clearly paid off — and will provide a big PR win (and at least one positive headline) for Trump during an otherwise rough week. Bres and Heather with the deets:

Related: “More On-the-Fence Democrats Back Impeachment of Trump,” via WSJ’s Siobhan Hughes, Lindsay Wise and Natalie Andrews:; and “Facing pro-Trump chants, Elissa Slotkin explains support for impeachment,” from Roll Call’s Simone Pathe:

TUTTI FRUTTI, OH RUDY … “Giuliani Provides Details of What Trump Knew About Ambassador’s Removal,” by NYT’s Ken Vogel:

LOADING UP THE CHRISTMAS TREE — Congress unveiled a massive, $1.37 trillion spending deal yesterday afternoon, leaving members of the House roughly 24 hours to read the legislation before they vote on the pair of funding packages later today. And since it’s one of the last major legislative trains leaving the station this year — perhaps this entire session of Congress — tons of significant policy provisions hitched a ride on the measure. Here are some examples of what else the legislation does:

  • raises the purchase age for tobacco to 21
  • provides money for research into gun violence
  • permanently repeals three major health insurance taxes
  • reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank for seven years
  • provides a 3.1 percent pay raise for federal civilian employees
  • reauthorizes money to rebuild the Kennedy Center
  • provides money for boosting election security

The complete rundown from Jennifer Scholtes and Caitlin Emma:

Related: “Lawmakers Reach Late and Narrow Tax-Break Deal,” by Richard Rubin of WSJ:; and “Congress rejects Trump’s border wall spending increase,” per Washington Times’ Stephan Dinan:

PRINTER PROBLEMZ — Members of Congress, they’re just like us! The text of the spending deal was slightly delayed yesterday because of a “technical formatting and printing issue,” as Fox News’ Chad Pergram put it. But a little bit later, a House Appropriations aide posted a video to Twitter to show that the printer was finally up and running, promising to “release final bill text soon.”

GOOD MORNING! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this Tuesday, December 17, where your host is loving this throwback pic of Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell chatting about impeachment in 1999, from the distinctly different locations of “Washington” and “Capitol Hill.”

MONDAY’S MOST CLICKED: The Intercept’s report on Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) facing his first serious primary challenger was the big winner.

OK, SCHUMER — Senate Republicans are dismissing Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) opening salvo in the debate over impeachment trial procedures. Schumer wants to hear testimony from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, among other White House officials, during the trial. But Republicans said the House was the venue for fact witnesses — not the Senate. And Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who Dems are hoping to pick off, appeared annoyed by Schumer’s tactics.

But Schumer was doing more than just laying down a marker — he was also firing off a warning shot to Trump and the GOP. If Republicans try to haul in their controversial witnesses like the Bidens or the whistleblower, Schumer made clear that Democrats have their own wishlist of witnesses who may not be so favorable to the president (though of course, they would need four Republicans to join their side in any vote.) Marianne and Burgess with more:

Related: “Disparate group of Republican senators worry White House and GOP leaders ahead of impeachment trial,” via CNN’s Ted Barrett, Manu Raju and Phil Mattingly:

DEAD MAN WALKER — Rep. Mark Walker, a member of GOP leadership, will not seek re-election in 2020 — nor will he launch a primary bid against Sen. Thom Tillis or another one of his House colleagues, he announced Monday. But Walker did say he will consider running for the Senate in 2022, when a seat will become open after Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) retires. “I believe the best way we can continue to serve the people of North Carolina is as a United States senator,” Walker said in a statement. “As I have always sought to have serving people supersede our ambition, I will dedicate my full heart and efforts to finishing my term in Congress.”

His decision to hang it up — at least for now — comes after redistricting made his seat far more Democratic leaning. It also comes after Burgess and your Huddle host reported last week that Walker had a meeting with Trump, where the president did not give Walker his blessing for a primary challenge against Tillis, whom Trump has already endorsed. Trump did, however, offer his support if Walker runs for lieutenant governor or Senate in 2022. James Arkin and Ally Mutnick with more:

Related: “Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorses MJ Hegar in crowded U.S. Senate primary,” by the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek:

SYRIA SANCTIONS ON DECK — The Senate is poised to pass a massive defense policy bill today that would also slap sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to punish him for the human rights abuses that were committed during the country’s eight-year civil war, reports the New York Times. The bipartisan sanctions were five years in the making.

The details, from Emily Cochrane: “The Caesar Act would place additional financial restrictions not only on the government but on major parts of Syria’s economy until there is accountability for the victims of war crimes. And it would penalize private companies or governments that do business with the Syrian government — including Russia and Iran, which have been major backers of Mr. Assad. … But despite broad bipartisan support, the bill languished on Capitol Hill, at times becoming collateral damage in political fights that had nothing to do with Syria, and in other instances, falling victim to obscure congressional procedures.” The latest:

CHAO DOWN — Our Pro colleagues have more details on how Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao — who is married to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — helped their home state of Kentucky secure its largest DOT grant. The story: “The $67.4 million grant application for Boone County … was initially flagged by professional staff as incomplete. But after giving the state and local officials behind the application an extra opportunity to submit missing information, Chao chose it as one of 26 grant winners out of an initial pool of 258 applicants.

“The Government Accountability Office faulted the department for failing to document why the Boone County project and 41 other applicants received this extra chance to fill in holes in their submissions when another 55 incomplete applications fell out of the running. Moreover, emails obtained by POLITICO show that Boone County officials were in contact with Chao’s aide Todd Inman, a former McConnell campaign staffer known to offer extra guidance to Kentuckians with business before the secretary.” Much more from Tucker Doherty and Tanya Snider:

Andrew Robreno started as manager of trade and commerce for chocolate-maker Ferrero’s institutional affairs team in Washington. He previously was deputy chief of staff and legislative director for Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.).

The House gavels in at 9 a.m., with first votes expected at 10 a.m. Today’s agenda:

The Senate meets at 10 a.m. to resume consideration of the conference report accompanying S. 1790 (116), the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2020. They will vote on adoption of the report at 11:45 a.m. They’ll then recess from 12:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. for weekly caucus meetings.

The House Democratic Caucus holds a closed-door meeting at 9 a.m. in HC-5.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Vice-Chair Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) hold a press conference at 10:00 a.m. in HC-8.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chair of the House DPCC, hold a news conference to highlight “Leader McConnell’s legislative graveyard” at 11:30 a.m. in S-325.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) holds his pen and pad briefing with reporters at 1 p.m. in H-107.

The House Republican Conference holds a closed-door meeting at 5:30 p.m. at HVC-215.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and GOP leaders hold a media availability at 6:30 p.m. in HVC Studio A.

MONDAY’S WINNER: Bruce Mehlman was the first person to correctly guess that Dave Obey holds the record for the longest serving member from the state of Wisconsin.

TODAY’S QUESTION: From Bruce: From which state were both the tallest and shortest Members of Congress? First person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your best guess my way:

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