House Advances Major Budget Deal As Trump Bemoans Impeachment President Trump sent a six-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Tuesday, criticizing Democrats for the impeachment proceedings, which he calls "an unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power ... unequaled in nearly two and a half centuries of American legislative history."

The letter came as the House of Representatives passed a $1.3 trillion bipartisan spending agreement ahead a Friday deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

The measure includes funds to support election security and gun violence research, along with a 3.1% pay raises for service members and federal workers.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, and Congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell.

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House Advances Major Budget Deal As Trump Bemoans Impeachment

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House Advances Major Budget Deal As Trump Bemoans Impeachment

House Advances Major Budget Deal As Trump Bemoans Impeachment

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/788961303/789057049" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, there. Before we get started, it's that time of year where a lot of people are feeling a little generous and thinking of making a contribution to one thing or another.

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SARAH: Things may have changed by the time you hear it, but hopefully we haven't been eaten by the kraken. OK. Here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: I've seen the movies about this, and it doesn't end well.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: So I hope it ends much better for them.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: Hey, there. It is the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

RASCOE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I also cover the White House.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: And I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.

KEITH: All right, guys. So we are here to talk about the budget. There is a great, big spending bill that the House of Representatives just approved. But first, before we get to...

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: Before we get to it, you know, the House Rules Committee right now is considering rules for the debate that is set to take place tomorrow to impeach President Trump - for the House of Representatives to impeach the president of the United States. And as that debate is ongoing, President Trump pushed send on a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that is six pages long.

RASCOE: And it's not a love letter.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: No, it is not a love letter. And this is really a long-form response from the president of the United States to his impending impeachment, which he calls, I think, a dirty word.

RASCOE: Well, it's six pages of really long - and like you said, it is a long expression of everything the White House has been saying but kind of distilled in a very Trumpian fashion.

SNELL: I see all caps and exclamation points from here.

RASCOE: A lot. I mean, he - you can tell that he dictated this. He had to - or someone is very good at speaking in his voice. I mean, he called it an ugly word - a very ugly word, impeachment.

KEITH: And the letter goes on and on and on and on. It even cites NPR at one point - an interview that Morning Edition did with Joe Biden.

Ayesha, how would you sum this up? What is the essence of this?

RASCOE: I think the essence of this is it seems that President Trump, I think you could reasonably say, is very angry about the process and that this is him kind of just stating that he feels this process has been completely unfair and that he is saying that it goes against democracy itself.

This is what President Trump does a lot - is he makes it not just about - you're not just attacking me; you're attacking my voters and the democratic system. And so this seems to be - because this - the administration made the choice not to send lawyers to any of the hearings in the impeachment inquiry in the House. So this seems to be his way of stating a case that they hadn't stated.

KEITH: Right. Kelsey, this is really the first time the president is engaging with the House impeachment process on literally the eve of the impeachment.

SNELL: And you know, Democrats have repeatedly said they wanted the administration to participate in this. They've called a number of witnesses from the administration, and the president told them not to appear. So this is, in some ways, a preamble to the Senate trial where the president said he expects it to be a fair trial and where his staffers and his representatives are working closely with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on a strategy for addressing some of these accusations from the House.

KEITH: He also goes on about how he wants to be able to work with Democrats so that he doesn't have to call them the do-nothing Democrats. Funny story - they're in the process of voting on numerous bipartisan agreements and...

SNELL: Literally thousands of pages of bipartisan agreements.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: Right now.

KEITH: Right now. And we're going to talk about that after the break.

And we're back. And I feel like we say this - I don't know - every six months, at least once a year, but the government is about to run out of money, or at least, it's about to run out of spending authority. There could be a government shutdown at the end of this week. Kelsey, is it going to happen?

SNELL: I'm here to tell you that doomsday is probably not here.

KEITH: (Laughter).

SNELL: I know.

RASCOE: Probably - you can't say a hundred percent in this town.

KEITH: You can never say a hundred percent. But the House of Representatives just voted to approve this big, fat spending agreement.

SNELL: Spending and taxes - it covers all kinds of fun stuff. So it includes a whole package of miscellaneous little bits and bobs of taxes that have expired or going to expire. They're basically cleaning house.

KEITH: Yeah. Is this the time of year where we call things Christmas trees?

SNELL: Oh, yeah. Kind of.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: Everybody gets an ornament.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: OK. So this bill just passed the House. As you say, it is a very big, fat piece of legislation. What are some of the highlights? What's in there?

SNELL: Well, I think that everybody's claiming some wins here. Maybe it's useful to start with where things are bipartisan since this is a bipartisan spending agreement. No. 1, they raised the minimum age for buying tobacco products to 21. Now, that's a pretty big step. There are some states that have already gone that far, but this is the first time we're seeing that happen on a national level. And it was negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky, a major tobacco-growing state, and Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat who represents Virginia, the other very large tobacco-growing state.

KEITH: OK. So I don't understand.

SNELL: They both say it's a public health crisis and that people are dying and that people in both of their states are addicted to cigarettes and that they want to do something. And they also want to do something about youth smoking, and so they saw this as an opportunity to finally get that done.

KEITH: All right. So what other bipartisan things are in there? - just top - big items.

SNELL: They got rid of three taxes that were supposed to help support Obamacare - the Cadillac tax, which was a tax on these big and fancy health care plans.

KEITH: Unions don't like the Cadillac tax.

SNELL: Right - and a couple of other miscellaneous taxes related to Obamacare that Democrats and Republicans both just didn't like. So everybody's happy about that one. They're also really happy about funding VA health benefits. So great stuff for both sides - they're celebrating wins on that.

KEITH: And then, Ayesha, what is the White House celebrating? What is President Trump or Republicans - what do they see as wins here?

RASCOE: A big thing that they see as wins is they got border security funding without restriction, which means wall or fence or maybe fence...

SNELL: Democrats say it's...

KEITH: Border barrier.

SNELL: It is border barrier.

RASCOE: Barrier.

SNELL: It is fence, as Democrats say. And it is flat-level funding from this year. So they did not get the grand increase that President Trump wanted.

RASCOE: They didn't get 8 billion. And this was what shut down the government last year - was this fight over the wall. Right.

SNELL: Basically the exact same fight, but it appears that the president is going along with flat funding. And another thing Republicans I talked to are excited about is they have access to kind of a surge of emergency funds in the event that Customs and Border Protection feels that they need additional detention beds at the border.

RASCOE: And so they're going to get more money for the military. The president is always talking about that. And they're also getting this 3.1% pay raise for service members. The other thing is they got to retain all of these pro-life and pro-Second Amendment measures that were included in previous spending bill law. So those didn't get rolled back, which is obviously very important to the president's conservative base and to evangelicals.

SNELL: But speaking of gun issues, Democrats are very excited because they got funding for gun research for the first time in 20 years.

KEITH: So for gun safety research...

SNELL: You have $25 million to research gun violence.

KEITH: OK. So Republicans are happy. Democrats are happy. It's already passed the House. It's likely...

SNELL: We should say not all Democrats are happy, and not all Republicans are happy. But enough Democrats and Republicans are happy.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: And it's expected to pass the Senate this week.

SNELL: That's right.

KEITH: And then there's one more step. The president of the United States has to sign the measure.

RASCOE: With that Sharpie - he has to get that Sharpie out.

KEITH: So Ayesha, what do we know about how the White House feels?

RASCOE: Well, we don't know a lot about what President Trump has felt. Maybe he was working on this - that six-page letter. He didn't have time to talk about the spending bill. But we did hear from his adviser Kellyanne Conway, and she had this to say about the spending bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KELLYANNE CONWAY: A year after they called it manufactured crisis, the president is getting 1.375 billion for his wall, and they didn't mess with his authorities at all.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Kellyanne, can you give us an update on...

CONWAY: There's a lot of good stuff in there.

KEITH: There's a lot of good stuff in there, she says.

SNELL: Now, I have a question because I remember way back in 2018, the last time that Congress was passing a big, giant spending bill, there was a signing ceremony. And the president was complaining about a giant spending bill that had been released only hours before it was passed. And then he said he would never sign another one of those again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But I say to Congress I will never sign another bill like this again. I'm not going to do it again. Nobody read it. It's only hours old. Some people don't even know what is - $1.3 trillion. It's the second-largest ever.

SNELL: Now, we just got this bill a couple of hours ago. Few people have read it. It's actually two bills. It's bigger than the last one.

KEITH: But it's two instead of one.

RASCOE: But it's two. It's divided. So - and...

KEITH: (Laughter).

RASCOE: I think...

KEITH: So here's the thing. I have very strong memories of approximately a year ago at this time interviewing Kellyanne Conway and asking her if the president was going to sign the bill. And she didn't explicitly say he was going to sign the bill, but she talked about how there was a lot of good stuff in there. And then he didn't sign it, and the government shut down for the longest shutdown in history.

SNELL: Now, the one thing I will point out is the big difference this year - an election and an impeachment and a whole lot of members of Congress who don't want to be fighting about keeping the government open during either of those things.

RASCOE: Yeah. I would think that - that's why you can never say things are a hundred percent in this town. You never know with President Trump. But this would be a lot for him to take on at this moment - impeachment and, as you said, an election and, oh, I'm going to shut the government down, too - when he needs those senators to be on his side right now.

SNELL: That he does.

KEITH: All right. We are going to have to leave that here for now, but we will be back in your feeds tomorrow. Now, what time we will be back, we are not quite sure because the House is set to take up impeachment, debate impeachment and ultimately vote on it. But we have no idea when that might all wind down.

One other thing - right now is fundraising season. Member stations around the country are trying to close out their budgets, too. And we can't make this podcast without the support of member stations, and they can't do what they do without your support. So please go to donate.npr.org/politics. That way you can tell the stations that we sent you. And thank you.

I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

RASCOE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I also cover the White House.

SNELL: And I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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