Media deem Trump the nominee, despite Haley tying him to Putin

Nikki Haley is campaigning hard, making the television rounds and ramping up her rhetoric against Donald Trump.

She is fighting on her home turf – South Carolina, the state that knows her best – and yet the media are acting in many ways as if the campaign is over.

That’s largely because the state’s former governor trails Trump by 22 to 36 percentage points, according to the last several South Carolina polls.


Haley is not only way behind Trump, she’s not closing the gap in a way that makes it a competitive contest on Saturday.

And if she loses by more than 20, the pundits will view that as the final nail in her political coffin.

Beyond that, I can’t think of a single state that Haley can win outright. She says she’ll continue at least through Super Tuesday, but the former president may have mathematically clinched the nomination by then, or shortly afterward.

This is not a knock on Haley (though contemporaries say she burned some bridges in South Carolina). The former U.N. ambassador managed to be the last woman standing, well after Pence, DeSantis, Scott, Christie and the others dropped out. But it’s instructive to look at how she’s campaigning, and why Trump – despite his four indictments and $355 million civil fraud penalty – seems unstoppable.

In a Sunday interview on ABC’s "This Week," Haley increasingly tried to tie Trump to Vladimir Putin’s murderous tactics in the wake of the Arctic prison killing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny:

"When you hear Donald Trump say in South Carolina a week ago that he would encourage Putin to invade our allies if they weren’t pulling their weight, that’s bone-chilling, because all he did in that one moment was empower Putin. And all he did in that moment was, he sided with a guy that kills his political opponents, he sided with a thug that arrests American journalists and holds them hostage, and he sided with a guy who wanted to make a point to the Russian people, don’t challenge me in the next election or this will happen to you too."


What’s more, Haley told Jonathan Karl, "it’s actually pretty amazing that he – not only after making those comments that he would encourage Putin to invade NATO, but the fact that he won’t acknowledge anything with Navalny. Either he sides with Putin and thinks it’s cool that Putin killed one of his political opponents, or he just doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal." 

Trump had said he wouldn’t protect any NATO country that didn’t spend 2% of its funds on defense, and in that case he would encourage Putin and Russia to "do whatever they hell they wanted." He has made no mention of Navalny’s death, which President Biden quickly blamed on Putin.

Haley reminded viewers that if Ukraine falls, Poland or the Baltics could be next.

Now think about this. If a candidate not named Trump had made comments interpreted as potentially blowing up the Atlantic alliance – drawing condemnation from top European leaders – and stayed silent when Russia’s dictator had the opposition leader killed, after a previous poisoning attempt, wouldn’t there be a political uproar?

But since it is Trump, who as president had a friendly relationship with Putin, there has been scant criticism from Republicans. If Trump believes it, most of the party falls into line.

It harkens back to his old 2016 line about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. Just as the Senate seemed on the verge of passing a bipartisan border bill that included aid to Ukraine and Israel, Trump torpedoed the measure by coming out against it.


And in a FOX town hall Sunday night, Haley, who often says her ex-boss was a good president at the time, offered a more negative assessment:

"There were things that he did wrong," Haley told John Roberts. "His press conference in Helsinki, when he went and was trying to buddy up with Putin, I called him out for that. I explained that deeply in my book…how he was completely wrong. Because every time he was in the same room with him, he got weak in the knees. We can't have a president that gets weak in the knees with Putin."

About 20 minutes after Haley used the "weak in the knees" line yesterday on "Fox & Friends," saying Trump has "yet to say anything about Navalny’s death," the ex-president responded on Truth Social: 

"The sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more aware of what is happening in our Country. It is a slow, steady progression, with CROOKED, Radical Left Politicians, Prosecutors, and Judges leading us down a path to destruction." You might have noticed the pivot, and the failure to mention Putin at all. 

All this, in a nutshell, is why the press are far more interested in the veepstakes chatter surrounding Trump than in Haley’s dogged campaigning.

What most of the media and other critics fail to understand is that Trump represents the majority of his party. He has remade the GOP in his own image. Most leaders, with the notable exception of the strongly pro-Ukraine Mitch McConnell, follow their leader, as do rank-and-file members afraid of a Donald-backed primary challenger.

Speaker Mike Johnson admitted he consulted with Trump before declaring the border compromise DOA. Marco Rubio, who two months ago helped pass a law barring any president from withdrawing from NATO, said he had no problem with Trump’s remarks about the alliance.

There are even lines that Haley won’t cross. Asked repeatedly on ABC whether she still plans to endorse Trump if he wins, as she said at the campaign’s outset, Haley kept deflecting the question.

A decade ago, Haley’s pro-military and anti-Russia views would have been a comfortable fit for the Republican Party, but that party no longer exists.

Senate voted in favor of $95 billion international spending bill, there may be another around the corner

Members of the House and Senate usually like to gab.

But word of a cryptic, major national security threat against the U.S. cast a pall on Congress this week.

Loggorrheic lawmakers suddenly turned mute when they were sworn to secrecy considering the gravity of Russia potentially deploying a weapon in outer space.

"I can’t discuss this. I’m sorry," lamented Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla.

"Absolutely no comment," said Rep. Richie Torres, D-N.Y.


"We should be concerned. It’s serious," offered. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., "That’s all I can say right now."

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., was practically verbose when he chatted up reporters about the threat.

"I’m going to be very precise and I’m not going to take questions," said Johnson.

But Johnson lent little detail into the disconcerting reports.

"Steady hands are at the wheel," said Johnson. "There’s no need for alarm."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said the White House "confirmed that, in their view, the matter was ‘serious.’"

This consternation is cast against the backdrop of the Senate approving a $95 billion international security bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. In other words, if there’s a pressing threat from Russia, this could impact Ukraine.

An eye-popping 70 senators voted in favor of the bill just before daybreak Tuesday morning. Twenty-two Senate Republicans voted yes. Three senators who caucus with the Democrats voted nay.


Twenty-two GOP yeas is not quite half of the 49 member Senate Republican Conference. But that’s still a substantial showing. And 70 votes is a robust figure from the Senate. Seventy yeas would make the bill hard to ignore in the House - under other circumstances.

"I think the House will face a moment of truth. This is a historical moment," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. "You can also be sure our allies are watching, whether in NATO or East Asia, to see whether the United States surrenders, or betrays a partner." 

Democrats demanded that Johnson take up the foreign aid bill. But he immediately resisted. 

"We are not going to be forced into action by the Senate who in the latest product they sent us over does not have one word in the bill about America's border. Not one word about security," said Johnson.

Even though Johnson – and Senate Republicans – mauled a bipartisan Senate compromise for the border.

"What is he afraid of to put national security first to help our country, to push back and push back against (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin, and to make sure that our country is protected?" asked House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.

It’s not often that House members can bypass the leadership and deposit a bill on the floor. But there is a way to do it. The gambit is called a discharge petition.

Here’s how it works:

A discharge petition requires a solid number of 218 House members to sign up to go over the head of the Speaker. The number is locked in at 218, regardless of the side of the House. The House has 435 members at full population. It’s currently at 431 members. Thus, the discharge petition provision wants at least half of the body to favor sidestepping the leadership.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee said he was "absolutely" for a discharge petition.

When asked if most Democrats would sign on, Nadler replied, "yeah, I do."

But not so fast.

Many Democrats might push to advance the foreign aid package. But there are plenty of progressives who aren’t in favor of the bill at all because of concerns for Palestinians.


"I can’t support that bill with aid to Israel," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. "There’s also a lot of concerns about the restrictions on the aid to Gaza that the Senate put into the bill, including suspending aid to UNRWA, which is the only agency that can deliver aid in Gaza."

Moreover, Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., thought it was "premature" to execute a discharge petition. He wanted the House to try to work through the issue and get it on the floor another way.

So certainly more Democrats favor of a discharge petition. But no one knows what might constitute that particular universe of votes. Therefore, a discharge petition certainly needs substantial GOP support.

A successful discharge petition will require the support of advocates for Ukraine and moderate Republicans. Someone in that wheelhouse is Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. When asked if he was open to signing a discharge petition, Bacon replied "not now." He added he wouldn’t "lean too far forward" just yet.

The Nebraska Republican said "one or two" Democrats talked to him about signing the discharge petition. But he added a caveat.

"I'm interested in finding something we could all agree on," said Bacon.

But that’s just the start.

"I’d never sign a discharge petition when we are in the majority," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., suggested that that signatories weren’t team players for the GOP.

"A discharge petition would be a betrayal on the part of anyone signing it," said Gaetz.

This is why there have only been two successful discharge petitions in the House in the past 22 years.

One was on the House’s version of the famous "McCain-Feingold" campaign finance law, named originally after late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., in 2002. The other was on a measure to renew the Export-Import Bank.

So, this enterprise is challenging. And while it’s an intriguing parliamentary maneuver, the odds – and history – work against discharge petitions.

The House is now out of session until February 28. The Senate is done until the week after next. Another (yes, another) deadline to avert a government shutdown looms on March 1. A bigger one is barreling down the tracks for March 7. And the Senate must wrestle with an impeachment trial for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at the end of the month.

In short, a resolution to the international aid bill isn’t coming soon – if ever.

The threats loom – be a weapon from space for Russia. Threats at the border. Threats from China. The war in Ukraine. Instability in the Middle East.

The Senate finally acted – after a months-long circumnavigation into the border talks.

But there is no viable plan right now to pass the foreign aid package in the House.

It was long said that the Senate is where the House’s hot coffee cools.

In this case, the Senate served the House hot coffee.

And in today’s environment, it’s cooling instead in the House.

December deadlines: Things are a little different around Capitol Hill before the Christmas cutoff

Every December seemingly has a deadline on Capitol Hill.

To impeach the President.

To fund the government.

To avoid the fiscal cliff.

To raise the debt ceiling.

To approve a payroll tax cut.

To pass tax reform.

To allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

To pass Obamacare.

To undo Obamacare.

But things are a little different around Capitol Hill this December.


There’s no single, sweeping issue that is consuming Congress. Sure, there are lots of things to do. In fact, big things — which we’ll outline shortly. But the feeling this Christmas at the Capitol is different. No government shutdown is looming (talk to us about that in January and February). And while Congress has faced concrete deadlines before, there is no absolute, drop-dead date to complete anything.

Except there is a cutoff point. It’s the same as every other year: December 25th.

Lawmakers have three weeks to handle lots of things.

But it’s unclear if they’ll crank through them. And that’s why there’s the potential for Congress to linger in Washington and maybe — just maybe — still slam into the December 25th deadline.

Let’s start with impeachment.

No, the House is not going to impeach President Biden before Christmas. You might remember that December is kind of "impeachment month" on Capitol Hill. The House impeached President Clinton on Dec. 19, 1998, for obstructing justice and lying after his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The House impeached former President Trump — the first time — on Dec. 18, 2019, for abusing his power and obstructing justice as it pertained to Ukraine.

Notice a pattern?

While those votes were actual resolutions to impeach the President, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., is just pushing a plan to formalize an impeachment inquiry. FOX is told the goal is to pass the impeachment probe resolution next week.


House Republicans have nibbled around the edges of impeachment for months. But the House never adopted a measure officially authorizing impeachment.

"Now we're being stonewalled by the White House because they're preventing at least two to three DOJ witnesses from coming forward," said Johnson on FOX. "So a formal impeachment inquiry vote on the floor will allow us to take it to the next necessary step. And I think it's something we have to do at this juncture."

Plus, Johnson needs to notch a political and legislative win.

Johnson hasn’t had much to crow about since he first clasped the Speaker’s gavel in October. He quickly passed a bill to boost Israel in its fight against Hamas. But since then, Johnson has presided over a House majority that encountered multiple stumbles in efforts to pass their own spending bills. The highlight of Johnson’s short tenure may have been the expulsion of former Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. — which Johnson and other GOP leaders opposed.

But impeachment could boost the GOP — especially as Congress stares at the possibility of dual government shutdowns over the winter.

"If it goes to the floor, we're going to pass it. There's no question," said House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., about an impeachment inquiry vote.

It’s about the math.

Republicans can only lose three votes on their side and prevail and still open an impeachment investigation. For months, moderates resisted an impeachment vote. Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., initiated an impeachment inquiry — without an official vote — because he never had the votes. Moreover, McCarthy needed to do something to move the needle on his side of the aisle when GOP spending bills began stalling on the floor and conservatives grew restless over his debt ceiling pact with President Biden.

But votes to potentially launch an impeachment inquiry began to fall into place over the past few weeks. House Republicans believe things changed over Thanksgiving — after lawmakers were marooned in Washington for nearly 11 consecutive weeks since late summer.

"They met people in Walmart and people on Main Street, and they're like, ‘What in the world did the Bidens do to receive millions and millions of dollars from our enemies around the world? And did they not pay taxes on it?’ So they heard from their constituents," said House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky.

Democrats accuse Republicans of a political diversion ahead of an election year.


"This is all part of a phony effort by extreme MAGA Republicans to distract the American people because they have no track record of accomplishment," said House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

But impeachment isn’t what is most vexing to many on Capitol Hill this December.

Major issues loom over passing the annual defense policy bill. But it faces a dispute over declassifying some information related to Unidentified Aeriel Phenomena (UAPs). Renewing the foreign surveillance counter-terrorism program known as "FISA." And then there is the big one: President Biden’s international aid package for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. The status of that bill is much harder to read because there’s no hard deadline — except Christmas. And the end of the year. And then when the focus pivots in January to averting a government shutdown.

To some, it would be hard to see Congress leaving town before the holiday without addressing Israel and Ukraine. Republicans insist that Democrats attach a robust border security plan to the package. However, Republicans aren’t even in agreement on what those border provisions might look like. But, if the plan blows up, Republicans hope to blame Democrats who are getting hammered politically for not tackling the border.

White House Budget Director Shalanda Young sent an urgent letter to lawmakers Monday, saying Congress was about to "kneecap" Ukraine by not passing the aid.

Talks over the border went sideways in recent days, perhaps scuttling the supplemental spending plan.

And if Congress doesn’t pass the international aid bill?

"You can bet Vladimir Putin is watching. Hamas is watching. Iran, President Xi, North Korea, all of our adversaries. They’re watching closely," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "If Congress fails to defend democracy in its hour of need because of border policies inspired by Donald Trump or Stephen Miller, the judgment of history will be harsh indeed."

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., lashed his colleagues across the aisle.

"Democrats appear to be hell-bent on exhausting every half-baked idea before they get serious about actually fixing our border," said McConnell. "Senate Republicans know that national security begins with border security. And we’ve made it crystal clear that in order to pass the Senate, any measure we take up in the coming days must include serious policy changes designed to get the Biden Administration’s border crisis under control."

So it’s unclear if the fight over the border and the international aid package could keep Congress here close to Christmas this year — entering the special legislative pantheon of five-alarm fires which have screwed up other holiday seasons on Capitol Hill.

But things are a little different around the Capitol this December.

And even if Congress abandons Washington without finishing everything, no one will be celebrating.