After months of quiet negotiations with Democrats to re-shape parts of a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, the U.S. House overwhelmingly voted to approve the update to NAFTA, delivering President Donald Trump a big legislative win - just a day after the House had given Mr. Trump a historic rebuke by making him only the third President to ever be impeached.
The vote on the USMCA was part of a flurry of activity in both the House and Senate on Thursday, as lawmakers left Capitol Hill for a year-end break - not due back for votes until the first full week of January 2020.
Here is a roundup of late developments in Congress:
1. Trump gets big USMCA win - finally - in the House. It took months, but after winning over Democrats with extensive negotiations for late changes in the U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada, the House rewarded President Trump with a large bipartisan majority voting in favor of the update to the NAFTA trade deal. "It's going to make a big difference for American workers," said Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL). "We have a chance to reset the clock and chart a new path," said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), as the updates and improvements to NAFTA won over a large majority of votes from Democrats. The trade deal won't get a vote in the Senate until after Christmas, but it's still a big step forward for a major piece of the President's agenda.
2. Impeachment articles stay on hold in House. A day after voting to impeach President Trump on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges, the actual articles of impeachment remained on the House side of the Capitol, as Democrats decided to not send them immediately to the Senate, hoping that could force changes by the GOP in how an impeachment trial would go forward. The effort was roundly mocked by Republicans, who said it was bizarre that Democrats would vote to impeach the President, and then not send the charges over for a Senate trial. "I admit, I'm not sure what leverage there is by refraining from sending us something we do not want," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday, as he said if Democrats wanted to delay impeachment forever, that's okay for the GOP. "Fine with me," McConnell said, expressing his bemusement. No House votes will take place until January 7 at the earliest, meaning nothing official will happen to trigger a Senate trial before that date.
3. New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew jumps to the GOP. A day after voting against two impeachment articles against President Trump, Rep. Jeff Van Drew traveled to the Oval Office to meet with the President, where it was announced that Van Drew was switching to the Republican Party, after 17 years as an elected Democrat from the Garden State. "This is just a better fit for me," Van Drew told reporters while sitting next to the President. "This is who I am." But while Van Drew said he identified much more with the President, that's not what his record shows - outside of impeachment. A quick check of his official and campaign Twitter feeds showed all sorts of policy statements at odds with the President, endorsing the idea of firing top Trump aide Stephen Miller, ridiculing the President's infamous Helsinki summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, endorsing voting rights legislation from Democrats, and denouncing the President's border policies as 'atrocious.' That was a slightly different message from the one he delivered in the Oval Office.
4. No shutdown as Congress okays funding bills. Capping months of negotiations, the Senate on Thursday approved two packages of funding bills for the federal government, ensuring that there will be no government shutdown when a temporary funding plan runs out on Friday night. The $1.4 trillion in spending was divided into two different measures - an eight bill spending 'minibus' covering non-defense plans, and a separate four bill measure dealing with the Pentagon, Homeland Security, and more. Between them, there was over 2,200 pages of text, which was only dumped on lawmakers Monday night. And yet, by Thursday afternoon, all of it had been given easy approval in both the House and Senate. "We're given no choice but to support or oppose the whole thing," said Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), one of a handful of Republicans who have grumbled about the process involved with these two measures. "We can do better," Lee added on the Senate floor. The details included a repeal of several taxes from the Obama health law, and a new plan which raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products.
5. Congress goes home for the holidays. As President Trump gets ready to head to his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida on Friday for an extended stay over the Christmas break, lawmakers in the House and Senate were scurrying for the airport as well, with their work done for 2019 on Capitol Hill. The departure for House members didn't happen until about 4:30 pm - after approval of the USMCA deal - as lawmakers had their staffers idling in the parking lot on a very cold December day, waiting to rush them to the airport for a plane ride home. I've often said that the most dangerous place in America is the parking area outside of the U.S. House chamber - and that was true again on Thursday. The House won't be back for votes until January 7. The Senate has votes starting again on January 6. "We'll see ya in 2020," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday evening.
6. Why was 'impeachment' not capitalized? After I dug out my copy of the front page of the Washington Post from December 20, 1998, and compared it to the front page of the Washington Post on December 19, 2019, one thing stood out - the headline was the same, except for one item. "Trump impeached" versus "Clinton Impeached." I contacted a source familiar with the situation at the Washington Post, who indicated that a style change had taken place soon after the 1998 vote, which no longer allows for capitalization of only the first word of the headline, along with proper nouns (for example, names and cities). Some on social media suggested a cabal was at work. Instead it seems to be something much less sinister.