Elizabeth Warren’s Senate Committee Shuffle

Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren will be a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee – which is responsible for oversight of the military and the Pentagon – beginning in January.  Why is this significant? According to the Boston Globe:

The posting which Warren sought and will take effect when a new Congress convenes next year, adds a new set of issues to Warren’s portfolio and promises to fuel speculation about a possible 2020 bid for president. The liberal firebrand — who is best known for dressing down Wall Street CEOs and pushing for ways to bolster the economic health of the middle class — will now be getting elbows deep in debates about defense spending, Russian cyberattacks, and deployment of the nation’s military around the world.

The decision also puts Warren (and by extension the state of Massachusetts) back on the committee that has oversight and importance for defense contractors in her state.  Her previous two predecessors – Ted Kennedy and Scott Brown – were members of the committee. Warren will join the committee in time to participate in the confirmation hearings for General James Mattis (Ret.) to be the next Secretary of Defense. To get this position, Warren gave up her position on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.  As the Globe also mentioned, it will give her opportunity to brush up on foreign policy and national security issues ahead of a possible 2020 presidential run.

Ellison Calls for Scrutiny of Rex Tillerson’s Russia Ties

 

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) called Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson’s relationship with Russia “a real concern” during an interview on CNN’s “New Day.”

From the transcript:

CUOMO: All right. Donald Trump defending his pick for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who is facing criticism from both sides of the aisle over his business ties to Russia, paving the way for a big confirmation battle, maybe.

Joining us now to discuss is the Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison. Mr. Ellison is also running to be chair of the Democratic National Committee.

We’ll talk to you about your political fate. Let’s talk about the state of play here. How do you feel about Tillerson, the president-elect has said some people don’t like that Tillerson is friends with world leaders? I don’t think that’s the issue. What do you think?

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: I don’t think it’s the issue, either. I think the issue is, what are the material connections which may undermine, compromise American national security?

If you are the secretary of state or the president of the United States, for that matter, we need to know that there is nothing, absolutely nothing you’re thinking about other than the best interests of the United States. Not your company. Not your business dealings. Not what money you may have on the line.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, that this is a very troublesome situation, because if you expand this to the whole hacking situation, which our intelligence agencies have said that perhaps Russia has favored President-elect Trump, then we have to say what if they turn against him? What if suddenly they don’t like him? Will they expose things about him that they know that we don’t know?

I mean, will he be able to be full-throatedly, 100 percent for us?

CUOMO: Right.

ELLISON: This is a real concern.

Ellison’s comments didn’t go as far as those of South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison – a competitor of Ellison’s in the race for DNC chairman – who called on the Senate to reject Tillerson’s nomination a few days earlier.

UPDATE: Michael McFaul – President Obama’s former ambassador to Moscow – tweeted this:

CIA Concludes Russia Wanted to Help Trump Get Elected, Will Congress Investigate?

The Washington Post dropped a bombshell yesterday revealing the existence of a secret CIA assessment that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was done with the intended purpose of helping him get elected, as opposed to the previous theory, which was that it was about creating chaos and mistrust in the American political process:

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

The article also notes that the intelligence was challenged by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Donald Trump himself repeatedly questioned the accusation that the Russians were behind the hacked DNC and John Podesta emails being published by WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign, and the Trump Transition put out the following statement last night in response to the story:

Setting aside the inaccuracy of their claim of “one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history,” the Post’s reporting was subsequently confirmed by the New York Times, which added another detail to the story: Russians hacked Republican National Committee computer systems, but did not publish any of the information they obtained.

Democrats and some congressional Republicans are asking (and in some cases, promising) investigations into various angles of the Russian hacking.

From the Trump transition team’s perspective, this Russia hacking assessment would put another asterisk on their election victory, the first being that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes. The fact that Trump himself and Republicans in general gleefully cited the emails being dumped daily by WikiLeaks during the campaign, as well as the fact Trump himself called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email, does not help their case either.  The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote a good article about the political dilemma Republicans find themselves in regarding how to handle this. As national security columnist John Schindler pointed out on Twitter:

Watching this story play out from the perspective of international leaders who will have to deal with President Trump for the next four years, those leaders can draw two conclusions: first, the President-elect only receives an intelligence briefing once a week, according to Reuters; second, that the president will not believe or openly dispute the findings of his own intelligence agency. The latter may wind up undermining Trump himself later on. If he has to rally international support for diplomatic action against a country or organization, and he cites U.S. intelligence findings as his evidence, who is to say that a skeptical country such as China or Russia or Venezuela won’t come back with a response along the lines of “Why should we believe your intelligence when you don’t even believe in it yourself?”

It will be interesting to see to what extent the Republican Congress is willing to investigate this in the months ahead, and if they do, how deep the rabbit hole goes.

UPDATE: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell is reporting that Donald Trump has chosen Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State, according to two sources. According to the Wall Street Journal, Tillerson has ties to Putin and Russia:

Among those considered for the post, Mr. Tillerson has perhaps the closest ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, having negotiated a 2011 energy partnership deal with Russia that Mr. Putin said could eventually be worth as much as $500 billion. In 2012, the Kremlin bestowed the country’s Order of Friendship decoration on Mr. Tillerson.

This pre-existing relationship with Mr. Putin complements Mr. Trump’s push to improve U.S.-Russia ties. A number of Republicans have urged him to be wary of working closely with Russia, warning that it is trying to expand its influence in a way that runs counter to U.S. interests in places such as Ukraine and Syria.

Exxon has a large global presence, and this could introduce sticky conflicts of interest if Mr. Tillerson is selected. The company explores for oil and gas on six of the world’s continents and has operations in more than 50 countries.

Mr. Tillerson, who is slated to retire next year, has retirement funds worth tens of millions of dollars, a value that could potentially be affected by State Department activities. For example, he could benefit from such potential department actions as the lifting of sanctions on Russia.

In light of the CIA assessment on Russia’s role in the election, this confirmation hearing will be a lot more interesting than if Trump had chosen a more conventional nominee like Mitt Romney or Bob Corker.

UPDATE II: Mitchell also reporting that former Undersecretary for Arms Control and UN Ambassador John Bolton is Trump’s choice for Deputy Secretary of State. Democrats wouldn’t allow a confirmation vote on Bolton for the UN ambassador nomination during the Bush years, so he was a recess appointment.

Branstad Nomination Gives Democrats a Possible Pickup Opportunity in Iowa

Donald Trump chose Iowa governor Terry Branstad to be his ambassador to China, an offer that Branstad accepted.  The vacancy for Iowa’s chief executive would be filled by Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds until the 2018 election. Branstad – who was already the state’s longest serving governor – was up for reelection, but now Democrats will have the opportunity to run against Reynolds. This would give Democrats an opportunity to win another governorship, in a state Trump won by a slightly larger margin than Texas.

The Democratic Governors Association went through the opposition research on Reynolds and forwarded this Politico story mentioning her as a potential U.S. Senate candidate in 2014. Depending on the political and economic winds in two years, as well as candidate recruitment, this could be a good opportunity for Democrats to get a win.

Fidel Castro Dead at 90

I was at the David Gray concert in Los Angeles last night thinking it would be a nice, relaxing Thanksgiving weekend when Raul Castro dropped a bombshell and announced to the world that his brother, Fidel Castro, had died. Though this has nothing to do with the Democratic Party’s rebuilding efforts or the results of the election, it is still a momentous event that must be acknowledged.

Fidel Castro was one of the last remaining icons of the Cold War. (As Blogs of War put it, “Last member of the original Cold War cast bows out.”) Only a handful of people of that stature from both sides of the conflict are still alive, most of them from the latter years of the Cold War which ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991: Mikhail Gorbachev, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Stansfield Turner, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, William Webster, Robert Gates, John Major, Helmut Kohl, Helmut Schmidt, Lech Walesa and Daniel Ortega.  (Feel free to contact/correct me if I forgot anyone else who should be on that list.) Castro was – for better and for worse – one of the most influential people of the 20th Century.   Read the Miami Herald obituary for more information and context.

Here is a sampling of responses and official statements from political figures in the United States and around the world: