Dec 23, 2019

The spending bill nobody is talking about.

The spending bill nobody is talking about.

Congress spends $1.4 trillion dollars in new bill.

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Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Trump signs a massive, bipartisan spending bill. Evangelicals split over what to do in 2020, important happenings abroad and results from the Tangle survey.

Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos

Thank you.

Hundreds of you took the time to take the Tangle survey and tell me what you wanted out of future editions. I can’t thank you enough. All the feedback — positive and critical — was really informative. I’ll share some interesting data in the “Numbers” section today. If you missed the survey but still want to take it, just click below.

Take the survey

Holiday schedule.

I’ll be writing today and tomorrow but taking off the rest of the week for the holiday. It’s my first real break from reporting in almost a year, so I’m very much looking forward to hitting the reset button. Keep your eyes out for Tangle tomorrow and then next Monday. And have a happy Hanukkah, Kwanza and a Merry Christmas, for those of you who are celebrating! Here is the upcoming Tangle schedule:

  • Hitting your inbox on December 23rd-24th.
  • Taking a break on December 26th-29th.
  • Back in your inbox Monday, December 30th and 31st.
  • Taking a day off January 1st.
  • Back to regular programming (Monday-Thursday) January 2nd.

What D.C. is talking about.

Late Friday night, President Trump signed a $1.4 trillion spending bill that hardly made a blip on the radar. But it was one of the most significant legislative moments of his presidency. The bill includes money for the Space Force, a new branch of the military Trump has touted for a couple of years. It also avoided a government shutdown with the National Defense Authorization Act, changed the Affordable Care Act, included border wall funding and changed the rules on who can buy tobacco. The bill was stuffed with new provisions from the left and right.

What the right is saying.

Mostly, they’re celebrating it as a win for Trump. The president got $1.375 billion in border wall funding, far less than the $8.6 billion he asked for but still a huge sum to build with. The National Defense Authorization Act, included in the spending bill, raised wages for troops and federal workers by about 3% and created the Space Force, the sixth branch of the U.S. military and the first created in 70 years. The bill also raised the age to buy tobacco to 21, something that may be unpopular with many Trump supporters but addresses the vaping hysteria that the president has been trying to address. It also eliminated unpopular taxes that were a part of Obamacare, including the so-called “Cadillac tax,” a 40 percent levy on expensive health care plans. Republicans also avoided passing any language that pushed back on Trump’s abortion restrictions which caused Planned Parenthood to turn down its Title X funding earlier this year. Farm state members got a win too, landing $1.5 billion in disaster relief funding and language that stabilizes pensions for tens of thousands of miners who were on the verge of losing their benefits. Still, plenty of conservatives were unhappy. The bill includes so much spending it will raise the deficit — or the difference between how much the government spends and how much in brings in via taxes — by about $500 billion over the next decade. That led Sen. Ted Cruz to post a 6-minute video of himself on Twitter smoking a cigar and explaining why the bill was a “lobbyist boondoggle.”

What the left is saying.

Nancy Pelosi does it again. The left celebrated, too, claiming that Pelosi “railroaded” Republicans by getting a ton of Democratic priorities into the bill. Trump got a seventh of the border wall money he wanted, even if it was nearly $1.4 billion. The bill includes $25 million for CDC research into gun violence, the first time gun violence will be researched in 20 years. There was also a mandatory 12 week paid family leave provision passed for all federal workers, hitting a huge priority for Democrats who want to normalize paid family leave with hopes the private sector steps in line. Democrats increased spending for Head Start and other early childhood education programs, simultaneously getting more funding for Medicaid in Puerto Rico. There was also $7.6 billion to fund the 2020 census, more funding for the National Science Foundation, NASA and climate research for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. And there was $425 million in election security grants for 2020. “With this bill, we have lived up to that promise by making historic investments For The People,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey. “I am so proud that we are able to do so much good for children and families across the country and around the world.” Others, like some Republicans, were unhappy. Many members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were upset the bill did nothing to reduce U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) funding, which has helped increase the detention of migrants on the border.

My take.

In a lot of ways, this looks like some pretty conventional Washington politics. Democrats got more for social welfare and environmental programs they care about, and Republicans got more for the military funding they wanted in exchange. In the Trump era, so much conversation around “What D.C. is talking about” has to do with tweets, drama, bluster and fact-checking. It almost feels odd these days to have a traditional, partisan spending battle, but the back-and-forth that produced this bill was just that. Once the bill was out, both parties abdicated any responsibility for the absurd amount of spending by blaming priorities on the other side. Republicans said the Pentagon and military budgets were needed and trashed Democrats for expanding domestic spending. Democrats did the opposite. While Democrats have largely mocked the Space Force, I happen to think it’s a pretty good initiative depending on how it’s executed. Space truly is the next frontier, and our military and government should be deeply invested in protecting the assets we have there (think: satellites, the space station, etc).

Stepping outside the numbers and particulars, the most interesting thing about this spending bill is that it truly represents a full Trump-takeover of the Republican party. Just five years ago, it would be absurd to imagine a Republican president and Republican Senate passing this bill. But Trump had his priorities, Pelosi knew how to leverage them and everyone understood Republicans would fall in line behind whatever Trump would sign.

Perhaps most importantly from this bill, the health care industry made out like a bandit. After a full year of Republicans and Democrats criticizing the health care industry at every chance they got, Congress went on to pass a bill that essentially kept the exact same business model in place and potentially made it even more profitable, all as health care costs go up. Hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts went to the health care industry after some old school lobbying (i.e. health care lobbyists offering funding support in exchange for provisions to the bill). “It’s the ‘no special interest left behind bill’ of 2019. That’s what it feels like this is,” Andy Slavitt, a former health administrator who served in the Obama administration, said. “There’s no other explanation.” You can read more from The Washington Post here.

A story that matters.

Last week, Christianity Today — one of the largest evangelical news outlets in the country — wrote an editorial calling for the removal of President Trump. It was a significant moment given Trump’s re-election hinges largely on support from the religious right, including evangelical Christians, who are Republicans’ most reliable voting bloc and have been since the 1980s. 80% of evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. The editorial called on evangelical Christians to “Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency... will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?” Trump responded by calling the pro-life and largely conservative news outlet “far-left.” Christianity Today’s editors have continued to defend the editorial into this week, creating a sustained effort from one of the most influential evangelical magazines to convince its readers to turn on Trump. You can read the original editorial here.

Tales from abroad.

  • U.S. military officials have their eyes on North Korea, which is expected to conduct a “Christmas surprise” missile test on Wednesday. The concern is up as North Korea is once again acting aggressively in the region and Trump’s promise that the nuclear threat from North Korea is over seems like a distant memory. At the same time, former national security adviser John Bolton recently criticized Trump saying his administration had a “rhetorical policy” towards North Korea and that Trump doesn’t really mean it when he talks about stopping North Korea’s nuclear ambition. Click.
  • As U.S. Democratic nominees for president discussed China’s detention of millions of Muslims, China cut the live feed of the debate. The real-time censorship came after a debate moderator asked if the U.S. should boycott the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing to protest the alleged detention of 2 million Uyghur Muslims. Viewers in China said after the question was asked the feed on the television went dark for 9 full minutes. Click.
  • Five people will be charged and executed for the killing of Jamaal Khashoggi, the Washington Post writer who was a Saudi dissident and permanent resident in the U.S. The two most senior people accused of being involved in Khashoggi’s killing avoided any prosecution and were cleared of wrongdoing. Immediately, speculation exploded that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was executing innocent people or agents he directed to kill Khashoggi in an effort to cover up his crime or close the book on the killing. Click.

Your questions, answered.

If you want to ask a question, you can submit one by replying to this email and writing in. You can also tweet at Tangle News.

Q: Presuming the House votes to impeach later on today, how can the Senate Republican Leaders (like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham) act as jurors in the impeachment hearing? They are publicly saying how they will be working with the White House, have already made up their minds about voting to acquit, etc. Especially when they are taking an oath to be impartial, how can they act as a truly fair jury in this case? It seems to me like they will be immediately committing perjury upon taking that oath.

- Alex, New York, NY

Tangle: This is a question a lot of people are asking. The first and most direct response is that an impeachment trial is not like a court trial, so while having “impartial jurors” is what we all hope for it isn’t something that is legally required (unlike most criminal cases, where jurors can be dismissed if it’s determined that they’re pre-disposed to land on a certain verdict). One could make the case that senators are sworn to uphold the constitution, and that oath prohibits them from acting in their own political interest. But you’d have to dismiss basically all of American history to think that members of Congress would suddenly start acting solely based on their oath to the constitution and not on what is politically expedient.

As for Senate Republicans, you can basically divide them into three camps on impeachment: Trump sycophants, Trump-friendly and Trump trouble. The Trump sycophants have nothing but loyalty to Trump and apparently will do anything to stay in his good graces. Sen. Tom Cotton and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Arkansas and Mississippi fall into this category. Cotton seems inextricably attached to Trump and you can expect him to be one of his most vocal supporters during the Senate trial, and Hyde-Smith has voted with Trump about 96% of the time she’s been in office.

Another camp is the Trump-friendly Republicans. I’d classify more than 80% of Senate Republicans like this. These are the guys like Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz who support Trump when it’s politically expedient and almost always avoid criticizing him when they don’t like what he’s doing. They basically have two channels: praising Trump or staying silent. Most Republicans operate in this territory, and when it comes to impeachment you can expect to see a huge majority of Senate Republicans land here. Maybe they’ll offer tepid criticisms of the call being “inappropriate,” but mostly they’ll defend Trump from a rigged, partisan process and focus the attention on his major conservative wins — overhauling the courts and passing a major tax cut bill.

The Trump trouble senators are the ones consistently put in a bind by Trump’s behavior but without the political power to do much about it. Sen. Mitt Romney and Sen. Susan Collins fall into this category. Romney is politically safe but has enough priorities he needs Trump for he’s careful not to burn the bridge entirely. Sen. Collins faces a tough re-election in 2020, in a state where many Mainers are upset she supported Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court and many more would be livid if she votes to exonerate Trump. This creates considerable pressure for her to vote honestly with her conscious, though it’s unclear which way she’ll go with serious pressure on both sides.

All told, it’ll be tough to accuse any of these senators as committing perjury when they take the stand. Though they’ll be sworn in to protect the constitution, they’ll have plenty of ammo to take either side on impeachment and defend it under the guise of doing what’s best for the United States. As Mitch McConnell recently said, “Do you think Chuck Schumer is impartial? Do you think Elizabeth Warren is impartial? Bernie Sanders is impartial? So let's quit the charade. This is a political exercise.” Ultimately, the cynic in me expects every Republican senator to land wherever is most politically convenient.


  • $63 million. The cash on hand for the Republican National Committee heading into the 2020 elections.
  • $8.3 million. The cash on hand for the Democratic National Committee heading into the 2020 elections.
  • $20.6 million. The cash the RNC raised in November alone, a new record for the party.
  • 65.1%. The percentage of Tangle readers who said “What D.C. is talking about” was their favorite section.
  • 51.4%. The percentage of Tangle readers who said that they read the entire newsletter top to bottom.
  • 20.8%. The percentage of Tangle readers who said they’re most likely to skim or skip the “Your questions, answered” section.
  • 39.2%. The percentage of Tangle readers who said they’d like to receive more original, deep-dive stories that focus on one topic.
  • 22.9%. The percentage of Tangle reader who said they don’t want any additional content and like the newsletter exactly how it is.

Have a nice day.

After serving seven years of a life sentence in Houston, Texas, Lydell Grant was exonerated and freed on charges of stabbing a man in light of a new DNA test result. The case is one of many DNA tests that happen each year and exonerate wrongfully imprisoned men and women as more advanced investigative tools enter the courtroom. Grant’s case was a widely covered trial and conviction. Jermarico Carter has admitted to the killing after the DNA test exonerated Grant. While he won’t get the seven years he spent in prison back, Grant’s case is just another sign that our justice system may be moving toward an era of more accurate convictions. You can read more here.

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