HABEMUS OMNIBUS — Or so it appears, at least. After a border policy wrinkle threatened to derail the mammoth omnibus government spending bill overnight, the Senate seems to have found a path forward.
Facing the prospect of an amendment from Sen. MIKE LEE (R-Utah) that would keep the Title 42 border protocol in place — and doom the bill in the House — Democrats instead came up with another border policy amendment from Sens. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-Ariz.) and JON TESTER (D-Mont.).
It was a classic “side by side,” an arrangement frequently deployed to ease the Senate out of political pickles. The Sinema-Tester amendment, which was voted down 87-10, gave moderate Democrats political cover to vote against Lee’s measure, which failed 50-47.
Senators are still working their way through a series of 18 votes to finish up the spending smorgasbord, but three notable amendments did get in: The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was tacked onto the omnibus in a 73-24 vote, the PUMP Act was added to expand rights to pump breast milk at work in a 92-5 vote, and the Senate unanimously agreed on a measure to let assets seized from Russia be used for rebuilding in Ukraine. Full story from Jordain Carney and Caitlin Emma
What’s next: Assuming the Senate clears the bill this afternoon, it may be a late night in the House. Speaker NANCY PELOSI said she hopes final passage will come tonight, but that would likely be too late for members to catch flights home ahead of the nasty storm bearing down on much of the country.
Fun fact: With the weather and the schedule both in flux, 38 House members have filed proxy letters today alone.
IN THE TRANSCRIPTS — The House Jan. 6 committee’s final report is expected to be released later today, but the panel offered an appetizer of sorts this morning, releasing interview transcripts that shed more light on former Trump White House aide CASSIDY HUTCHINSON’s legal representation and advice.
Notably, Hutchinson said lawyer STEFAN PASSANTINO, a former deputy White House counsel who has maintained close ties to Trump world, advised her to downplay her position and obfuscate in response to questioning. Being charged with contempt of Congress “is a small risk, but running to the right is better for you,” she recalls Passantino telling her.
As time went on, her doubts about the advice grew along with her moral qualms, and she started paging through reflections from Nixon White House figures for guidance. Lots more details in this thread from Kyle Cheney
— Publix heiress JULIE FANCELLI told the panel she planned to spend as much as $3 million supporting rallies that opposed the certification of JOE BIDEN’s victory on Jan. 6, WaPo’s Isaac Stanley-Becker and Beth Reinhard report. She gave money to groups led by CHARLIE KIRK, ALEX JONES and ROGER STONE, though she told investigators she intended for the protests to be peaceful. The transcript “shows her role was greater than previously known” that day.
NEW ON THE SCHEDULE — Biden will give a Christmas address at 4 p.m. today, which the White House says will be “focused on what unites us as Americans, his optimism for the year ahead, and wishing Americans joy in the coming year.”
Good Thursday afternoon, and thanks for reading Playbook PM. What’s giving you optimism for the year ahead? Drop me a line at [email protected].
BIG WIN FOR RASKIN — House Democrats tapped Rep. JAMIE RASKIN (D-Md.) to be ranking member on the Oversight Committee next term in a 133-75 vote over Rep. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-Va.) — a rare win for a less senior member. Playbook’s backgrounder
IT’S OFFICIAL — The House Democratic Caucus today ratified Leader-elect HAKEEM JEFFRIES’ choice of Rep. SUZAN DelBENE (D-Wash.) as the next DCCC chair.
THE TALENTED MR. SANTOS — Here’s the latest shoe to drop in the story of Rep.-elect GEORGE SANTOS (R-N.Y.). Though he says he’s openly gay and is married to a man, he was married to a woman as recently as September 2019, with the divorce finalized 12 days before he launched his first congressional run, The Daily Beast’s Roger Sollenberger reveals. Sexuality can be fluid, of course, and a marriage complex. But the news raises questions about why Santos, for example, said in October that he’s “never had an issue with my sexual identity in the past decade.” Santos hasn’t publicly mentioned his previous marriage and divorce, but he has made his identity as a conservative gay Latino an important part of his fight against the left.
But, but, but: Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss talked to a man who says he dated Santos for about two months in 2014. “He promised the world and citizenship for marrying him,” the man texted Weiss, “but I didn’t believe it was sincere.. and I ran out.. now I see I did the right thing.”
He speaks: “To the people of #NY03 I have my story to tell and it will be told next week,” Santos just tweeted. “I want to assure everyone that I will address your questions and that I remain committed to deliver the results I campaigned on; Public safety, Inflation, Education & more.”
— TOP-ED: Democratic opposition researcher TYSON BRODY, who wasn’t involved with this race, has an interesting NYT piece explaining how Santos could have skated through the campaign without this all coming to light. “[I]f you look closely, Democrats did do the basic outlines of this opposition research, just not enough for the full picture to come into view,” he writes. “In the end, many people missed the biggest story about him: that he may be a serial fabulist.” Instead, Democrats chose to emphasize that Santos said he was at the Stop the Steal rally on Jan. 6 and backed a national abortion ban — facts they might have (mistakenly) expected would doom him in a swing district.
SINEMATOGRAPHY — A 37-page memo for aides to Sinema lays out the centrist’s very specific preferences, from omnipresent bottles of room temperature water to a deathly aversion to middle seats on airplanes, The Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey reports. It’s a fun read, but the guidelines — which are from a couple of years ago — also “appear to go right up to the line of what Senate ethics rules allow, if not over,” he writes. Though staffers are supposed to assist members of Congress only with professional duties, the Sinema memo includes instructions for getting her groceries (with CashApp reimbursement) and fixing her home internet.
In response, Sinema’s office said the memo “is not in line with official guidance” and she doesn’t make staff complete personal errands for her.
THE NEW ELISE STEFANIK — “The impenetrable armor of Elise Stefanik,” by WaPo’s Ruby Cramer: “It is true that Elise Stefanik has changed. … It is also true that the change has come at a personal cost. Behind the ‘moderate to MAGA’ shorthand, a human transformation has taken place, too. Stefanik has lost friendships. She has lost ties to institutions that once mattered dearly to her. And she has responded in kind by making her world smaller and more insulated. She keeps her family life closely guarded and her inner-circle small: Outside her congressional offices, she has a set of male political advisers who have helped shape the scorched-earth language she wields with audiences she perceives as unfriendly. …
“In place of the openness she often once presented, Stefanik has developed a thick armor, smooth and hard, with no grooves or edges there to hold.”
ICYMI — The House voted Wednesday to pass legislation requiring equal pay and benefits for U.S. athletes in international competitions, regardless of gender. Having already cleared the Senate, the legislation now heads to Biden’s desk. The vote was 350-59; all those opposed were Republicans. More from Anthony Adragna in Congress Minutes
FOR YOUR RADAR — “Tesla, GM Among Car Makers Facing Senate Inquiry Into Possible Links to Uyghur Forced Labor,” by WSJ’s Yuka Hayashi
STORY OF THE DAY — Your must-read this afternoon is this deeply humanistic portrayal from WaPo’s Stephanie McCrummen of a rural man in Rep. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE’s district whose demographics would seem to prime him for the GOP but who instead has helped flip Georgia blue. McCrummen captures something far too rarely discussed in political journalism: the way that all the small elements of a life — in this case, from RALPH WALDO EMERSON poems to a military posting in South Korea — coalesce over time into a worldview, and the way that worldview translates into political action.
2024 WATCH — DONALD TRUMP’s advisers are still feeling good about the former president’s 2024 primary chances, banking on a 2016 repeat: a packed field and divided opposition failing to stop him, the Washington Examiner’s Christian Datoc reports. Trump world thinks the threat from Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS will fade, SCOTT WALKER-style, as more Republicans jump into the race. They see Trump maintaining his vise grip on a third of the GOP electorate and his small-dollar donor advantage — while they think DeSantis could eventually run into fundraising troubles. “Basically, we’re praying NIKKI HALEY runs,” says one.
— Sen. TIM SCOTT (R-S.C.) has launched new national Facebook ads aiming to promote his mission, get donations and add names to an email list, FWIW flags. (He just won reelection.)
MEGATREND — The U.S. population grew 0.4% this year, per new Census Bureau data, quite low by historical standards but higher than last year. In the year ending July 1, the number of Americans grew by 1.3 million to 333.3 million. That included a net of 245,000 more births than deaths, per the WSJ.
The way-too-early political implications … The Brennan Center’s Michael Li has a fun breakdown of how the new numbers would translate to reapportionment if it were happening now: Arizona, Florida, Idaho and Texas would each gain a House seat, while California, Illinois, Minnesota and New York would each lose one. And if current trends continued for the rest of the decade — a “big if,” he notes — Texas would gain four and California would lose five in 2030, among other shifts.
KEEPING UP WITH THE CONWAYS — In Bustle, Avery Stone profilesCLAUDIA CONWAY (famously the daughter of KELLYANNE and GEORGE), who’s now 18 and newly a voter. Living with her brother and grandmother, Conway is finishing up high school and getting very involved with reproductive rights activism — which she says her mom has supported. Claudia calls her relationship with Kellyanne great now and says they’ve found a lot of peace by going to therapy together. The younger Conway hates Trump and says she won’t vote for Republicans, but she also claims the label of independent and wants to keep an open mind.
JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH
CLICKER — NBC’s Frank Thorp has a new photo essay out this morning remembering the Capitol insurrection, including interviews with some key figures in the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation. “Long after the rioters left the U.S. Capitol, the shattered glass was swept up and the nation began its reckoning with the Jan. 6 attack, the people who were there that day and those most affected by the unprecedented violence are still seeking answers,” he writes.
“I have zero regrets,” says Rep. ADAM KINZINGER (R-Ill.). “And I know my kid, I know this, he will be proud to have the last name. And a lot of my colleagues will have kids that’ll be ashamed of them.”
WHAT RECESSION? — The government revised its estimate of third-quarter growth to 3.2%, up from 2.9%, another indicator that the economy has remained fairly strong despite fears of a looming recession. The new Commerce data also upgraded consumer spending growth from 1.7% to 2.3%. More from the AP
MORE GRIST FOR TIKTOK OPPONENTS — “ByteDance Inquiry Finds Employees Obtained User Data of 2 Journalists,” by NYT’s Cecilia Kang: “Over the summer, a few employees on a ByteDance team responsible for monitoring employee conduct tried to find the sources of suspected leaks of internal conversations and business documents to journalists. In doing so, the employees gained access [to] the IP addresses and other data of two reporters and a small number of people connected to the reporters via their TikTok accounts. … One person on the team resigned and three were fired. … The targeted reporters wrote for BuzzFeed and The Financial Times.”
THE WHITE HOUSE
CATCHING COLD — In the Oval Office this morning, Biden warned Americans to proceed with caution amid the extreme cold snap and intense storm descending on much of the country. “This is not like a snow day when you were a kid,” he said. “This is serious stuff.” He told White House aides to “leave now” for the holidays.
KNOWING CARLOS ELIZONDO — “Social secretary helps ‘people’s house’ welcome the people,” by AP’s Darlene Superville: “[H]ow is he managing? ‘Lots of caffeine,’ said Elizondo, the first Latino to become White House social secretary … Elizondo, a bespectacled 60-year-old, began working for the Bidens in January 2009, after Joe Biden became vice president, and he held the job until Biden’s term ended in 2017. … A native of Harlingen, Texas, Elizondo is among a group of openly LGBTQ aides serving Biden in prominent roles … [Colleagues] say Elizondo is warm and funny, even in a high-stress job.”
WAR IN UKRAINE
HOW IT HAPPENED — Though Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY’s bold D.C. visit was announced just hours before it happened, the idea was percolating for months beforehand, AP’s Seung Min Kim reports. Congressional leaders and Biden administration officials had broached the idea, and Zelenskyy had intimated that he’d like to make the U.S. his first stop abroad. Biden extended the invitation again in a Dec. 11 call, and this time Zelenskyy said yes. “What came about Wednesday was an elaborately executed plan by U.S. and Ukrainian officials to swiftly and safely route Zelenskyy to Washington.”
AMERICA AND THE WORLD
BEHIND THE OPIOID CRISIS — Tensions between the U.S. and China are having one unintended consequence: making America’s fight against fentanyl more difficult. WSJ’s Brian Spegele and Julie Wernau report that cooperation between Washington and Beijing on curbing Chinese production of fentanyl ingredients has broken down in the past few years. China cut off all talks on the matter this summer after Speaker NANCY PELOSI visited Taiwan.
WHAT GINA RAIMONDO IS WATCHING — Last month, American efforts to restrict Chinese semiconductor manufacturing paid off as Beijing’s imports plunged 40% year over year to $2.3 billion, WSJ’s Liza Lin reports from Singapore. “November’s semiconductor imports marked the lowest level since May 2020 and are down sharply from a recent peak of $4 billion.”
IMMIGRATION FILES — “Migrants flee more countries, regardless of U.S. policies,” by AP’s Elliot Spagat: “Migration is often driven by ‘pull factors’ that draw people to a country, such as a relatively strong U.S. economy and an asylum system that takes years to decide a case, encouraging some to come even if they feel unlikely to win. But conditions at home, known as ‘push factors,’ may be as responsible for unprecedented numbers over the last year.”
SPEAK NOW — After ELON MUSK had swaths of suspended Twitter accounts reinstated, NYT’s Stuart Thompson dug through more than 1,000 of them to see what they’re bringing back to the social media platform’s landscape. He finds a lot of partisanship, a lot of passion and a lot of conspiracy theories: about the pandemic, vaccines, election fraud and QAnon.
SCARED OFF — “Elon Musk’s Campaign to Win Back Twitter Advertisers Isn’t Going Well,” by WSJ’s Suzanne Vranica, Patience Haggin and Alexa Corse
TRANSITION — Mary Baskerville is now head of global strategic partnerships and engagement at HP. She most recently worked in external affairs at Philip Morris International, and is an Obama administration alum.
BONUS BIRTHDAYS: Scott Sadler … Mary Baskerville