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AOC endorses Markey as Kennedy mulls Senate challenge

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WASHINGTON — Bringing her political star power to races for Congress, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Friday endorsed Democratic Sen. Ed Markey for re-election in Massachusetts as he faces a potential primary challenge from Rep. Joe Kennedy III.

Ocasio-Cortez said in a video released by Markey’s campaign that she’s backing the Democratic incumbent as one of the Senate’s “strongest progressives” and her partner on the Green New Deal climate change proposal.

She said she is “proud to enthusiastically support” Markey’s reelection.

“When I first got to Congress and we started to discuss big, bold plans — a solution on the scale of the crisis — many members shied away,” the freshman lawmaker said. “Ed Markey was one of the few people that had the courage to stand up and take a chance.” The Boston Globe first reported the endorsement.

Backing from the influential freshman lawmaker is a potential setback for Kennedy, as Markey has been racking up endorsements and the congressman weighs whether to jump in the race.

A primary in Massachusetts would pit Markey, the longtime lawmaker, against a popular four-term congressman from the iconic political family. He is the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy.

Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement comes as the liberal newcomer is turning her political attention on congressional races for the House and Senate.

Earlier this week, Ocasio-Cortez said she’s skipping presidential primary endorsements, for now. Instead, she told reporters she’s focusing on House and Senate races. She said she’ll be rolling out endorsements “soon.”

“I really want to focus on our congressional endorsements first,” the New York Democrat said this week.

“Our presidential candidates are fabulous, but they take up a lot of attention and so they don’t need my help right now,” she said. House and Senate races, she said, “really need a lot of help and attention.”

Ocasio-Cortez is heading to Colorado next week to headline a fundraising dinner for Democrats in Boulder and participate in activities around the climate strike protests, a worldwide walkout of young people from schools, homes, jobs to demand action on climate change. She also said she would be holding a town hall with a Colorado lawmaker.

Known by her initials AOC, the liberal newcomer toppled a House Democratic leader with a remarkable 2018 primary challenge that stunned Washington.

But putting her political power to work is not without its risks. Lawmakers resent challenges from their peers in primary elections, and some are already warily watching her moves.

A group aligned with Ocasio-Cortez, Justice Democrats, has already announced its support for primary challenges to other congressional Democrats in 2020.



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Democrats announce second week of impeachment public hearings

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Democrats on Tuesday announced a second week of open hearings in the House impeachment inquiry, including with E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, former Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker, and top Ukraine expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

Sondland, Volker and Vindman are key figures in the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Sondland has acknowledged delivering a quid pro quo message to Ukraine, while Volker had numerous dealings with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

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Testimony from Vindman, the Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, is also crucial as he was present during the July phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens. Vindman told impeachment investigators in his closed-door deposition last month that there was “no doubt” what Trump was intending to do.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where the gain would be for the president in investigating the son of a political opponent,” Vindman said, according to the transcript of his closed-door testimony made public last week.

In a press release, the committee announced they would also hear testimony from Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, on the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 19 alongside Vindman. That same afternoon, the committee will hear testimony from Volker and Tim Morrison, a White House aide with the National Security Council.

The next morning, the committee will hear testimony from Sondland. The committee will hear from Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs and David Hale, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, later in the day on Wednesday.

Wednesday’s hearings will take place hours before the fifth Democratic presidential debate, hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post.

Thursday morning, the panel will hear testimony from Fiona Hill, the former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia who testified that Sondland had told Ukrainian officials they needed to proceed with “investigations” in order to line up a White House visit for Ukraine’s president.

Volker and Morrison were among the witnesses who the Republicans on the committee had said they wanted to testify. Morrison said in a closed door deposition on Halloween he thought there was “nothing illegal” about Trump’s phone conversation with Zelenskiy, sources have told NBC News.

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It’s Trump vs. the administrative state as public impeachment hearings begin

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WASHINGTON — Democrats are betting the reality-TV presidency of Donald Trump will begin to short-circuit Wednesday when they start putting names and faces to the bureaucrats who collectively contend he placed his own gain above American national security interests.

Democrats are confident enough that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., upped the ante on the eve of his panel’s first publicly televised hearings by teasing the possibility that Trump will face impeachment on charges of bribery as well as high crimes and misdemeanors in an interview with National Public Radio.

“I don’t think any decision has been made on the ultimate question about whether articles of impeachment should be brought,” Schiff said. “But on the basis of what the witnesses have had to say so far, there are any number of potentially impeachable offenses, including bribery, including high crimes and misdemeanors.”

In other words, Democrats think they’re about to nail Trump to the wall.

“I trust the American people to figure this out,” Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., a member of the Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Tuesday. “If the president had anybody who could contradict what has been alleged so far, they would have been there already, they’d be there bright and early [Wednesday] morning to rebut this.”

They will use the rare battery of public Intelligence Committee hearings to give Americans a first look at how a raging battle between two views of governance affected foreign policy, national security and domestic politics in Washington and Ukraine.

In Democrats’ view, Trump corruptly deployed all of the tools at his disposal — from Cabinet officials and loyalists outside of government to official funds and the powerful imprimatur of an Oval Office meeting — to pressure Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelenskiy into announcing an investigation that would harm the political hopes of 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden.

They see Trump’s decision to operate outside of normal channels — and his efforts to smear both political rivals and non-partisan officials who weren’t playing ball — as manifestations of that corruption.

Trump and his allies have declared that he is innocent — that he rightly withheld foreign aid to Ukraine because he believed that the country had not yet committed to probing corruption, and that he has been hamstrung at every turn of his presidency by a “deep state” of government officials who are either insufficiently loyal to his agenda or outright hostile to him.

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Trump has described a July 25 telephone call in which he discussed U.S. support for Ukraine and a possible investigation into the Bidens with Zelenskiy as “perfect,” and Republicans have sought to confine public discussion of the Ukraine affair to the call itself — rather than efforts by administration officials and Trump friends like Rudy Giuliani to push a Biden probe — and whether it constitutes an illegal quid pro quo agreement between the two presidents.

“The facts are on the president’s side,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who was added to the Intelligence Committee roster for these hearings on Friday, said. “The truth is on his side.”

Corruption, business as usual — or both

The hearings Wednesday, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET, are to feature Bill Taylor — the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who has already testified privately that he pieced together from conversations with various players in Trump’s orbit that military aid and a White House meeting for Zelenskiy were conditioned on the announcement of a Biden investigation — and George Kent, a veteran State Department official who has described efforts by other Trump administration officials to intimidate colleagues in relation to the Ukraine scandal.

If past is prologue, viewers can expect a contentious and partisan back and forth between the 22 lawmakers on the committee — 13 Democrats and nine Republicans — as recent hearings involving Trump scandals have produced disruptions in decorum by the GOP minority. But that probably won’t be apparent early, since most of the intense early questioning is likely to be conducted by staff members, a wrinkle made possible by rules adopted by the House on a nearly party line vote that blessed the impeachment process.

Only Schiff, top-ranking Republican Devin Nunes, R-Calif., or their staff may ask questions in the first 90 minutes, under those rules — 45 minutes for the Democratic side, followed by 45 minutes for the Republican side. Then, if Schiff decides not to hold a second staff round of questioning, the members of the committee will each get 5 minutes to ask questions.

In a staff memo first reported by Axios, Republicans identified a handful of areas of focus for Trump’s defense — many of which have been contradicted by testimony or news reporting.

Tr

Asymmetric warfare

But the GOP’s immediate job is easier than that of Democrats: Republicans merely have to stick together enough in the House and the Senate in order to ensure that the president isn’t ultimately removed from office — which would require at least 20 Republicans crossing the partisan aisle to vote to convict him. That asymmetry means Democrats have their work cut out for them in convincing the public to pressure GOP lawmakers to turn on Trump, or to make enough voters angry enough to defeat him at the polls a year from now.

The other striking asymmetry is in the armies assembled for the fight. On the Republican side, it is Trump — a master of bringing attention to himself — and a legion of GOP lawmakers dedicated to his cause. But Democrats are relying on the witnesses — a set of men and women who pride themselves on working behind the scenes, without regard to political preference and with presidents and lawmakers of both parties, to keep the American foreign policy and national security apparatus humming.

In that way, a clash of culture, style and worldview will be on full display on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

The administration state fights back

Trump came to Washington promising to destroy what then-adviser Steve Bannon called “the administrative state” — the non-partisan civil servants who run the day-to-day operations of the American government. Now, Democrats plan to take him down with characters straight out of central casting for a Hollywood rendering of the administrative state, delivering a dry, just-the-facts presentation of what they saw and heard in executing the president’s Ukraine policy.

“We want the American people to hear the evidence for themselves in the witnesses’ own words, and our goal is to present the facts in a serious and sober manner,” Schiff said, as he prepared for a first hearing that will feature Bill Taylor, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a veteran State Department official who oversees European affairs. “They will describe their own experiences and how American policy towards Ukraine was subverted to serve the president’s personal, political interests, not the national interest.”

But Republicans say they will be able to pick apart the witnesses.

“They’re relying on people like Bill Taylor as a star witness who is going to tell us something that is third- or fourth-hand information,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y. “He did not have any firsthand information.”

It’s an argument straight from this week’s GOP talking points, made possible by the fact that Trump has blocked a majority of the big-name witnesses — the top lieutenants who speak to him directly — from testifying.

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Joe Biden on ‘what matters’ in 2020 election (extended interview)

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In the “NBC Nightly News” series “What Matters,” Harry Smith asks presidential candidate Joe Biden about his plan for health care.

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