POLITICO Playbook PM: The awkward Democratic debate

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IT’S DEBATE DAY. PBS NewsHour and POLITICO are hosting this year’s final Democratic presidential primary debate tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern, and we couldn’t be more excited.

ONLY SEVEN CANDIDATES WILL BE ONSTAGE: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang. Kamala Harris qualified but dropped out, and Cory Booker and Julián Castro didn’t make the cut — putting a diverse Democratic Party in the awkward position of hosting a debate with a decidedly non-diverse cast.

IT’S ALSO A BIT AWKWARD to be holding a debate a day after the House voted to impeach the president, a subject these candidates want to avoid like a drunken co-worker at the company holiday party; they’d rather outline their plans on health care, student debt and family leave. Still, polls show that’s exactly what Democratic voters want to hear about. Impeachment isn’t going to affect their lives one iota, as most realize by now that Donald Trump isn’t going anywhere.

THAT SAID, IMPEACHMENT IS ALSO AN OPPORTUNITY for one of the candidates to cast themselves as something very different from the sturm and drang of Washington. Could this be PETE BUTTIGIEG? The South Bend mayor has been testing an outsider message in a field dominated by D.C. insiders, but he’s been a bit sidetracked by his pillow fight with ELIZABETH WARREN and endless stories about his Harvard days, McKinsey clients and wine-cave fundraisers in Napa.

OR WILL IT BE AMY KLOBUCHAR? The Minnesota senator has been positioning herself as the sensible Midwestern answer to the sweeping promises of Warren and BERNIE SANDERS, and she’s had a couple good moments in the last two debates. A less crowded stage could give her more room to shine. Then there’s JOE BIDEN, who has yet to turn in a sterling debate performance but seems to enjoy the confidence of a remarkably stable portion of the Democratic base. We’ll be watching — and hope you will, too.

IN THE CAPITOL THIS MORNING, SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI played down the chatter that she might hold the articles of impeachment from the Senate indefinitely. “We are ready. When we see what they have, we will know who and how many [impeachment managers] we will send over,” Pelosi said in her weekly presser, referring to the Senate. “We don’t know what arena we are in.” Earlier: “McConnell taunts Pelosi as ‘too afraid’ to send impeachment articles”

PELOSI ON IMPEACHMENT: “Seems like people have a spring in their step because the president was held accountable. … I have a spring in my step because of the moral courage of our caucus.”

ON TRUMP’S ATTACKS ON JOHN DINGELL: “Let us pray for the president. … What the president misunderstands is that cruelty is not wit. It’s not funny at all. It’s very sad.” Full news conference More from Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris

Good Thursday afternoon. Blake Hounshell here, filling in for Jake and Anna, along with Garrett Ross. We’re expecting the the House to approve the revised USMCA this afternoon with a strong bipartisan majority. The Senate won’t be taking it up until the new year, however.

IMPEACHMENT CLIP PACKET … MARIANNE LEVINE and BURGESS EVERETT: “Senate Republicans pray Trump won’t tweet during trial”: “Trump has not exactly hid his feelings about the House impeachment proceedings, often tweeting that it’s “phony” and a “hoax.” The president even posted tweets attacking several witnesses who testified during the House’s impeachment inquiry.

“And if he continues the barrage during his impeachment trial in the Senate, it could derail the Senate GOP’s strategy, annoy undecided senators and end up hurting his efforts to win unanimous acquittal from the Republican Party. ‘He needs to be respectful of the process,’ said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s most vocal defenders in the Senate. ‘He can defend himself, he has a right to express his grievances but if I were him I would … keep a low profile.’” POLITICO

— “Chief Justice to Enter Spotlight in Trump Impeachment Trial,” by WSJ’s Jess Bravin: “Chief Justice [John] Roberts, seated during the trial at the Senate chamber’s rostrum, might appear to be the authority before whom the president’s accusers and defenders plead their cases. Yet he will hold less power over the proceedings than a municipal court judge hearing a pickpocketing case. The trial’s rules will be written by the jury — the Senate — whose Republican leadership has already pronounced the defendant not guilty.

“The Trump trial procedures will be adapted from the Senate’s 1986 impeachment guidelines, which allow the chief justice to decide ‘questions of relevancy, materiality, and redundancy of evidence,’ among other matters. But the Senate can overrule those decisions by simple majority, akin to letting seven of 12 jurors reverse a trial judge on any given motion in an ordinary case.” WSJ

— NYT DEEP DIVE: “How 2 Soviet Émigrés Fueled the Trump Impeachment Flames: ‘Lev and Igor’ were obscure businessmen who became fixtures of the Republican donor set. Then they played an unlikely role in the proceedings gripping the nation,” by Michael Rothfeld, Ben Protess, William Rashbaum, Ken Vogel and Andrew Kramer

— POLITICO MAGAZINE: “Impeachment: What’s the Verdict of History?”

THE VIEW FROM MOSCOW — “Putin says Trump was impeached for ‘far-fetched’ reasons,” by AP’s Vladimir Isachenkov and Harriet Morris in Moscow: “Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump was impeached for ‘far-fetched’ reasons, calling the move by Democrats a continuation of their fight against the Republican leader.

“‘The party that lost the (2016) election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results by other means,’ Putin said at his annual news conference in Moscow. He likened Trump’s impeachment to the earlier U.S. probe into collusion with Russia, which Putin played down as groundless.” AP

IMPEACHMENT FALLOUT … FROM DARREN SAMUELSOHN: “House Democrats and the Justice Department have found something they can agree on: less paperwork. Attorneys for both sides Thursday asked for permission from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to file one round of legal briefs apiece — rather than two — to make their arguments about what the recent House impeachment vote means for pending litigation over lawmakers’ access to Robert Mueller’s grand jury materials and testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn. Orders issued last night by the court just after the impeachment vote set out a 4 p.m. deadline for DOJ and the House Judiciary Committee to file their supplemental briefings. Josh Gerstein wrote about that here.”

NBC INVESTIGATION: “Chinese parts, hidden ownership, growing scrutiny: Inside America’s biggest voting machine maker,” by Ben Popken, Cynthia McFadden and Kevin Monahan in Omaha, Neb.: “The secrecy of [Election Systems & Software LLC] and its competitors has pushed politicians to send the companies letters requesting information on security, oversight, finances and ownership. This month, a group of Democratic politicians sent the private equity firms that own the major election vendors a letter asking them to disclose a range of information, including ownership, finances and research investments. …

“NBC News examined publicly available online shipping records for ES&S for the past five years and found that many parts, including electronics and tablets, were made in China and the Philippines, raising concerns about technology theft or sabotage. … Chinese manufacturers are a risk for U.S. companies because they can be forced to cooperate with requests from Chinese intelligence officials to share any information about the technology, said NBC News analyst Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director of the FBI for counterintelligence.” NBC

FEATURED VIDEO: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are proposing major taxes on the richest Americans. It’s been tried abroad, but could it work here?

2020 WATCH — ENDORSEMENT ROUNDUP … HOLLY OTTERBEIN: “Bernie Sanders nabs key progressive group endorsement” BUZZFEED’S DARREN SANDS AND HENRY GOMEZ: “More Black Leaders In Indiana Are Endorsing Joe Biden For President,” NBC’S @amandawgolden: “New today: @amyklobuchar’s New Hampshire campaign announces the endorsement of over 100 NH women who serve as political leaders and activists in their communities.”

— “Elizabeth Warren to hold private meeting with tribal leaders Sunday in effort to atone for past claims,” by WaPo’s Annie Linskey: “Representatives from all of the roughly 40 federally recognized tribes in the state were invited to a round table meeting with Warren in Tulsa on Sunday morning, ahead of a town hall meeting she is hosting that evening in Oklahoma City. By Tuesday evening, about a dozen had indicated they will attend, according to a person familiar with the schedule who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

“The previously unreported meeting will focus on Warren’s agenda for Native Americans and is part of a broader effort to highlight issues important to them. Warren is also trying to blunt the criticism she has faced over the years for appropriating Native American culture by identifying as such, according to three people familiar with the meeting who also spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.” WaPo

— “Andrew Yang Is Onstage, but Offstage, Asian-Americans Wonder Where They Fit In,” by NYT’s Jennifer Medina and Matt Stevens in Los Angeles: “The debate in one of America’s most ethnically diverse cities will not include any candidate who is black or Latino. Though it will feature two women — Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar — and a gay man, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. the lineup does not satisfy some in the party who believe that Democrats could pay dearly if the demographics of its candidates do not reflect its voters. …

“The intense focus on racial identity in politics has once again left some in the Asian-American community considering what diversity really means — and how exactly they fit in. … After decades of immigrant exclusion, second-generation Asian-Americans have come of age and experts say they are showing increasing interest and engagement in American politics.” NYTEugene Daniels: “Andrew Yang just wants some respect”

THE FATE OF OBAMACARE — “7 unanswered questions left by the Obamacare ruling,” by Adriel Bettelheim and Susannah Luthi: “Wednesday’s dramatic court ruling striking down Obamacare’s individual mandate lets President Donald Trump assure Americans their insurance is safe while telling his base he’s fighting the law to the death in court.

“It also allows Democrats to re-assert that Trump and his GOP allies are hellbent on gutting protections for people with preexisting conditions.

“[T]he timing of the decision makes it highly unlikely that the Supreme Court will weigh in on the matter before the 2020 election, leaving the ultimate fate of the health law in limbo.

“The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision for the most part punted on the central question of whether the Affordable Care Act is still valid now that Congress removed the penalty for not having insurance. Instead, the question will go to a federal judge in Texas who’s already ruled the entire law unconstitutional, keeping a cloud over Obamacare’s future. A group of Democratic-led states is appealing to the Supreme Court.” POLITICO

CENSUS WATCH — “Facebook will bar posts, ads that spread disinformation about the U.S. census,” by WaPo’s Tony Romm in San Francisco

DEPT. OF YA CAN’T MAKE IT UP — “USDA tariff tracker removes Wakanda, fictional home of Black Panther, as free trade partner,” by NBC’s Phil McCausland

MASSIVE NYT PROJECT: “Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy: What we learned from the spy in your pocket,” by Stuart Thompson and Charlie Warzel: “Every minute of every day, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017. The data was provided to Times Opinion by sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share it and could face severe penalties for doing so. The sources of the information said they had grown alarmed about how it might be abused and urgently wanted to inform the public and lawmakers.

“After spending months sifting through the data, tracking the movements of people across the country and speaking with dozens of data companies, technologists, lawyers and academics who study this field, we feel the same sense of alarm. In the cities that the data file covers, it tracks people from nearly every neighborhood and block, whether they live in mobile homes in Alexandria, Va., or luxury towers in Manhattan.

“One search turned up more than a dozen people visiting the Playboy Mansion, some overnight. Without much effort we spotted visitors to the estates of Johnny Depp, Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger, connecting the devices’ owners to the residences indefinitely. If you lived in one of the cities the dataset covers and use apps that share your location — anything from weather apps to local news apps to coupon savers — you could be in there, too.” NYTTweet thread from Thompson showing pings at the Pentagon, White House and Mar-a-Lago

END-OF-DECADE CLICK — NYT: “The Decade in Pictures”

PLAYBOOK METRO SECTION — “Democratic Senators Have Been Privately Pushing A Major Museum In D.C To Change An Exhibit ‘Sanitizing’ Torture,” by BuzzFeed’s Emma Loop and Jason Leopold: “The exhibit at the International Spy Museum, which features a replica waterboard and cartoonlike illustrations of torture, has already undergone one change, and more are possible in the new year, according to a letter from the senators.” BuzzFeed

MEDIAWATCH … MICHAEL CALDERONE: “‘Stunning piece of propaganda’: Journalists blast One America News series”: “[F]or much of the media world, OAN’s decision to give Giuliani a direct role in preparing its Ukraine report presents a troubling ethical development in the media landscape. Where once opinion shows began supplanting traditional news, now openly partisan content – presented largely unfiltered by the president’s personal attorney – is seeking to supplant content that’s opinionated but still independent.” POLITICO

— @mlcalderone: “Fox News names @edhenry co-anchor of ‘America’s Morning,’ as @BillHemmer heads to 3pm slot.” … Nick Baumann is joining The Atlantic as politics editor. He previously was senior enterprise editor at HuffPost.

SPOTTED: Paul Ryan and Joe Crowley walking into Bobby Van’s on 15th Street on Wednesday afternoon. Pic of Ryan outside … SPOTTED at the Harvard Club of D.C. annual award’s dinner Wednesday night at the University Club, where Harvard President Larry Bacow presented the award to David Rubenstein: Fed Chairman Jay Powell. Pic

TRANSITIONS — Joseph McMonigle will be secretary general of the International Energy Forum executive board starting in August 2020. He currently is president of the Abraham Group, senior energy policy analyst at Hedgeye Risk Management and a principal at Blank Rome. … Minhee Cho is now a media relations associate for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. She previously was director of public relations for ProPublica. … James Maloney and Milan Dalal have co-founded Tiger Hill Partners. Maloney previously was founder and president of the JHM Group. Dalal previously was of counsel for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

ENGAGED — Noah Weinrich, press secretary for Heritage Action For America, and Danielle DiQuattro, associate at Baron Public Affairs, got engaged Wednesday night in front of the Capitol Christmas Tree. PicAnother pic

— Lizzy Guyton, communications director for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and a Scott Brown and Jackie Walorski alum, and Tim Johnson, a principal at CSQ Realty, got engaged Wednesday night in front of the Massachusetts state house. PicAnother pic

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