Major decisions hang in the balance for Trump at year’s end

by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger

President Trump will face a gauntlet of high-stakes political and policy decisions when he returns to Washington after spending the Thanksgiving holiday with his family in Mar-a-Lago.

The dramatic lame-duck session ahead will turn on key moments involving the president:

The Russia probe: Trump on Tuesday submitted written answers to questions from special counsel Robert Mueller about the Russia investigation (The Hill). The president’s legal team is speaking as if the written responses should bring the probe to an end. Would they consider making the president available for an in-person interview if the special counsel insists? And will Trump appoint a long-term replacement for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions? Democrats view acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker as a yes-man for the president’s prosecutorial whims and a threat to the special counsel. They aim to keep the pressure on through investigations into communications between Whitaker and the White House.

The New York Times: Trump wanted to order Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton and James Comey.

China: The president is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 Summit in Argentina at the end of the month amid a trade war between the U.S. and China and growing fears of a global economic slowdown. The multi-billion-dollar game of tariffs tit-for-tat has frustrated industries and investors and has contributed to the recent stock market slide. On down-market days in the past, the Trump White House sent economic adviser Larry Kudlow out to make soothing statements about how an agreement between the U.S. and China is likely. That didn’t work on Tuesday, as the markets sold right through Kudlow’s reassuring remarks. Is the economic outlook sufficiently bleak that Trump and Xi might be under pressure to reach a deal?

Reuters: With a blistering new trade report on Tuesday, the U.S. Trade Representative added to U.S.-China disputes. Asian markets fell today as tensions rose.

Immigration: Congress will have to come to an agreement to fund roughly a quarter of the government’s operations by Dec. 7 to avoid a partial shutdown. Trump has not ruled out blowing past the deadline with no resolution if he doesn’t get funding for a border wall. Will he follow through? Lawmakers and the president keep saying immigration laws need a major overhaul, but no one has made a move in that direction. This week, a federal judge, citing existing law, blocked the Trump administration from denying asylum to migrants seeking entry into the U.S. And Democrats are opening investigations into Trump’s decision, announced ahead of the midterm elections, to send thousands of troops to the border to deal with a migrant caravan.

Criminal justice reform: There is rare bipartisan support in Washington for a Senate bill aimed at reforming the criminal justice system. The president is pushing for passage of a compromise bill, which was brokered in part by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stands in the way. The Kentucky Republican says there’s more important work to be done in the lame-duck session. Will Trump lean on him to push the legislation through and begin the year on a bipartisan high note?

The New York Times: McConnell feels the heat from the right to bring criminal justice reform up for a vote.

Mississippi Senate runoff: Trump is already committed to swooping into Mississippi next week to campaign for Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) in a runoff election against Democrat Mike Espy. But Hyde-Smith’s campaign has been a disaster and the contest has turned into another racially-charged fiasco for Republicans. There is very little upside for the president here. If Hyde-Smith wins, she holds a state the president carried by almost 19 points in 2016. If she loses, it resembles the special election in Alabama earlier this year, in which a horribly flawed GOP candidate embarrassed the party and fumbled away a Senate seat in a deep red state. Trump heads into 2019 with a campaign playbook that looks tattered coming out of the midterms and a governing style devoted to wedge issues. Is that how he plans to govern during the upcoming era of divided government?

The Hill: During a televised debate Tuesday night, Hyde-Smith apologized, saying she meant no “ill will” when she said she’d be on the “front row” if she were invited to a “public hanging.” Espy said his opponent “rejuvenated old stereotypes” and gave Mississippi “a black eye.”

%d bloggers like this: