“I have made very clear, publicly that I would not support Nancy Pelosi as our next speaker,” she said in late October.

But now as an incoming freshman lawmaker after winning a hard-fought race in Michigan, Slotkin declined to answer five separate times whether she indeed opposed Pelosi during a secret ballot this week in the House Democratic Caucus and also planned to vote against her on the floor in January.

“I’m not talking,” she told CNN Wednesday when asked if she voted for Pelosi behind closed doors just hours before.

During the sixth exchange Friday, Slotkin confirmed she opposed Pelosi in the caucus but didn’t say she would maintain that position on the floor.

“I never want to be disrespectful to anyone who served, especially a woman who has broken glass ceilings, but you have to hear what people in your district are saying,” Slotkin said. “And I got a very loud and clear signal from people across the aisle that they wanted new leadership.”

A Slotkin spokesperson declined to clarify whether she’d also vote against Pelosi in January.

Indeed, a number of new Democrats
who talked tough about Pelosi are being far more cautious about whether they’ll support her during the critical vote in January. It speaks to the realities of Washington: Fulfilling campaign promises are difficult, especially when it comes to intensely personal leadership contests and the potential of angering a political leader with the power to elevate freshmen — or quash their ambitions.
House Democratic sources tell CNN that some of the anti-Pelosi Democrats are considering voting “present” on the floor of the House, a strategic move that could help Pelosi and give the Democrats cover back home. Because House rules say that a speaker is only elected when a majority of members vote for a specific candidate by name,
voting “present” would lower the threshold below 218 votes for Pelosi to be elected speaker — while also allowing the Democrats to claim they stuck to their campaign promise by not supporting Pelosi.
Ohio Rep.
Tim Ryan, a leader of the anti-Pelosi movement, said Friday he was worried that the freshmen may buckle.

“That’s my concern — the freshmen,” Ryan said. “They made promises to their constituents. That’s how this all started.”

The new members’ positions come at a delicate time for Pelosi, who needs to flip 16-18 incoming and current Democrats
who opposed her in this week’s caucus vote to ensure she wins the speaker’s race before the full House. Some Democrats want Pelosi to clearly lay out her timeline for leaving the speakership, but she shut the door to that prospect on Friday. And there are other key Democrats holding their cards close to their vests, despite their campaign trail rhetoric.

For instance, Rep.-elect Haley Stevens of Michigan said in April that Pelosi “doesn’t have my support as speaker.”

Now, she won’t say.

“We have to be supporting our auto industry, you know, that’s consuming my time,” Stevens told CNN.

Others have been similarly vague.

Shortly after helping Democrats complete a sweep of California’s Orange County, Rep.-elect Gil Cisneros signed a letter with
16 other Democrats committing to support new leadership on the floor and in the caucus.

“In the caucus, I did what I always say: It’s time for new leadership, no voices — I voted (on) that,” Cisneros said Wednesday night after the caucus vote.

Asked if he’d vote against Pelosi on the floor, Cisneros said: “We’ll see.”

Similarly, New Jersey Rep.-elect Mikie Sherrill said bluntly on the campaign trail: “I won’t be supporting Nancy Pelosi for leadership.”

On Wednesday, Sherrill put out a statement saying she opposed Pelosi in the caucus vote but was vague about her plans for her floor vote on Pelosi, other than saying she didn’t plan to support her.

Asked about her floor vote, Sherrill told CNN: “I think we still have about a month to get to that point and I think we’ll see what comes up in the next month and then make our decisions.”

Sherrill added she wanted to see “movement” on infrastructure and a comprehensive health care plan, but added: “Certainly I feel that at the end of the day I’ve made a commitment to my district to support new leadership and not to support Leader Pelosi but I won’t be doing that.”

Other freshmen Democrats — like Jason Crow of Colorado — also declined to say how they’d vote on the floor despite announcing their opposition in the caucus, where Pelosi was nominated by House Democrats as their choice for speaker on a 203-32 vote, with three abstaining and one absent member.

“Well, I put out a statement yesterday and I stand by that statement — and there’s been no change since yesterday’s statement,” Crow said Thursday. The statement said he “stood by my pledge” and “did not support” Pelosi in the caucus.

There may be good reason for their squishiness. Slotkin circulated a letter, signed by incoming freshmen, asking for new members to be given plum committee assignments — something usually reserved for more senior members. Pelosi has the power to dole those assignments out.

“It just was meant to send a really clear signal from a large group of freshmen what are the things that are important to us,” Slotkin said about the letter. “It was something that was requested by the leader, and so it’s just a way for us to talk about what is important to us as a class.”

Already, some Democrats who previously said they would vote against Pelosi have flip-flopped after being given assurances and favors from Pelosi — like
Brian Higgins, a Democrat from New York. He predicted that more Democratic critics of Pelosi would join him and flip.

“Life is about leverage,” Higgins said.

But some freshmen who campaigned against Pelosi say they don’t want to flip on the commitment they made to voters to oppose her as speaker — including Max Rose and Anthony Brindisi of New York, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Jared Golden of Maine and Ben McAdams of Utah — all of whom told CNN they would vote against Pelosi on the floor.

“I made a promise to the people of my district a long time ago that I wouldn’t support her for speaker and I fulfilled that promise today,” Cunningham said Wednesday after the caucus vote, promising to vote against her on the floor. “So my position has never changed, and I never wavered.”

Rose said Friday he made two promises to the voters in his Staten Island district.

“One, I would be a firm ‘no’ on Nancy Pelosi,” Rose said. “And No. 2, I’d take my wife on a honeymoon. You’re out of your damn mind if you think I’m not going to honor those promises.”

Rep.-elect Abigail Spanberger of Virginia
promised after the election to oppose Pelosi in the caucus and on the floor. Asked this week if she still planned to oppose Pelosi, Spanberger said: “I’ve been very clear on my position.”

Some of the Pelosi critics have been eager to hear her plans for succession, something that Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat helping lead the charge against her, have begun to discuss privately with the Democratic leader, sources say. In a recent conversation, Perlmutter came away believing that she would step away from the speakership at the end of the next Congress — though she wouldn’t say so explicitly during that exchange, according to a source briefed on the conversation.

Asked Friday if there was a way to resolve the request for a timeline for her departure and her resistance to making herself a lame duck, Pelosi demurred.

“Between saying when I’m going to retire or not? I don’t think so,” Pelosi told reporters.

Pelosi bluntly added: “I don’t think, by the way, that they should be putting timelines on a woman speaker.”

As she’s moved to lock down the votes, Pelosi has been eager to promote her new freshmen, standing alongside them at a news conference Friday about
a new ethics bill they plan to move on immediately in the new Congress, while also allowing an incoming freshman Democrat, Katie Hill, to deliver the party’s weekly address.

Gathered alongside new Democrats at a photo opportunity Friday, Pelosi said with a smile: “Let the transition begin.”

[bcv]

They meet at a defining moment in US-China ties which are turning sharply more adversarial with Beijing being more assertive on the world stage and Washington shifting to a more confrontational pose.

For decades, US policy on China has been premised on drawing the rising giant into a rules-based international system, on the basis that greater economic opening would inevitably lead to political liberalization.

But that goal, pursued by Democratic and Republican administrations, proved futile. Instead, and especially under the strongman leadership of Xi, China has stuck to market economics but clamped down on political freedoms.

Beijing is now seeking to impose its weight on its own region and beyond, making sweeping
territorial claims in the South China Sea, sparking concerns of accidental clashes between the US and Chinese navies.

After decades of discrete and careful diplomacy, it is now seeking to extend its political, military and economic influence into Europe and Africa and offers developing nations an alternative model to the West’s liberalized societies.

As a result, there are growing fears that the rising superpower could clash with the existing dominant global force, the United States, and the Xi-Trump summit takes place as anxiety mounts over a possible new, pan-Pacific Cold War.

Suspicion of China is rare bipartisan concern

While Trump lashed out at China on the campaign trail, and blames it for draining away millions of American industrial jobs, rising suspicion of Beijing’s motives is bipartisan and widely shared in the foreign policy community.

The Trump administration’s new
National Security Strategy named China, along with Russia as a “revisionist power” seeking a world “antithetical to US values and interests.” It said China wants to displace the US in the Indo-Pacific region and reorder its economic structure to suit its own interests.
In July,
Michael Collins, deputy assistant director of the CIA’s East Asia Mission Center said China was using legal and illicit, public, private, military and economic power to wage a “cold war” against the United States.
Vice President Mike Pence formalized the US turn from engagement to confrontation in
a speech in Washington in October.

“America had hoped that economic liberalization would bring China into a greater partnership with us and with the world. Instead, China has chosen economic aggression, which has in turn emboldened its growing military,” Pence said.

Given this backdrop, an agreement on the US-China trade dispute, while welcome, would be only a small step to defusing a building competition between the two great economies.

Miles Kahler, senior fellow for Global Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations, said US-China relations are undergoing a transformation under Trump.

“It doesn’t mean open hostility or some sort of new Cold War, yet, but the list of grievances that they have with China is very, very long and it’s well beyond trade,” Kahler said.

“The consensus has definitely shifted toward a much harder, much less accommodating line toward China. And this is not just the result of changes in politics in the United States; I think it’s a result of perceptions of where Chinese policy has gone under President Xi Jinping in the last few years,” he said.

A rising challenger?


The US shift is not just evident in Pence’s speech. Washington now refers to Asia-Pacific as the Indo-Pacific region, highlighting the role of its ally India, a rising challenger to Beijing. At the G20 summit in Argentina, Trump held a meeting and an unsubtle photo op aimed at China alongside the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Underlining naval tensions, the US
this week sent a guided-missile cruiser on the latest “freedom of navigation” exercise in the South China Sea, near the Paracel islands, that are claimed by Beijing.
And earlier this month at the APEC summit in Papua New Guinea, Trump offered China an opening by not showing up. The China-US confrontation cast a shadow over the event which
featured hawkish speeches by Xi and Pence.

Both sides do have common interests in preventing an outburst of conflict and Trump has often enlisted China’s help in reining in its recalcitrant ally North Korea during his stick-and-carrot charm offensive.

But Washington and its regional allies have condemned Beijing’s recent drive to establish claims and build military bases on islands and reefs in the South China Sea whose waters are claimed by multiple nations.

Hope for a deal

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Still, despite rising geopolitical tensions, there is still hope for a trade deal in Argentina, partly because both sides appear to want a timeout.

“If we could make a deal, that would be good.  I think they want to, and I think we’d like to,” Trump said on Friday.

The President would like some relief from China’s reprisals over his billions of dollars in tariffs that are hammering agricultural heartlands in mid western states crucial to his reelection.

He is also, of course, a self styled master of the deal, and coming home with an agreement would allow him to boast of a political win at a time of extreme pressure back home over the Mueller probe.

It’s often hard to predict what Trump will do — and China policy is no exception. No modern President has been as tough on Beijing with his rhetoric and with tariff policy than Trump. Yet he also often boasts of his relationship with Xi, calling him a good friend. There are also concerns among Trump critics that he gives away the store in on-one-one negotiations.

Going into the talks, Trump’s economic team was talking a tough game. Larry Kudlow, director of the US National Economic Council, said that the President was ready to slap $267 billion in new tariffs on China, and took a swipe at Beijing’s economy.

“Most observers believe China to be in a slump whereas the United States is in a strong solid position going into the summit,” he said.

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The announcement came at a half-hour court hearing Friday morning, where Manafort’s team learned that his sentencing for conspiracy and witness tampering will happen on March 5, 2019.

The hearing came just days after special counsel prosecutors said they believe Manafort lied during his interviews with investigators following his guilty plea in September. The special counsel’s office may have to turn over evidence backing up its claim in the coming weeks.

Such a move could give Manafort’s legal team, and in theory, President Donald Trump’s lawyers if they are still in touch, a new window into some of the information Mueller has collected during the investigation.

Manafort pleaded guilty earlier this year to two charges of conspiracy and witness tampering, while publicly admitting he committed several other financial and lobbying crimes. He separately was found guilty by a jury in Virginia of eight financial fraud charges related to his Ukrainian lobbying proceeds.

Lead prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said the Justice Department is evaluating whether Manafort could still be held liable for crimes he’s admitted to but is not currently charged with in federal court.

“I don’t know at this time. We will have to evaluate whether it will be fruitful to take action” on those crimes, Weissmann said.

Manafort is currently in jail in Alexandria, Virginia. He did not attend the hearing Friday; two defense attorneys were there on his behalf.

Since his initial indictment last October, Manafort has been a thorn for prosecutors and, at times, for the judge.

While he still claimed his innocence in the case, prosecutors indicted him for attempting to contact potential witnesses to shape their stories. He then went to trial in Virginia federal court, holding off prosecutors from making a deal. After he lost his case at trial, Manafort changed his plea and agreed to cooperate with investigators. But that cooperation now appears to be tainted with the lying accusation — another unusual turn of events.

Manafort says he believes he was truthful with investigators.

“We have … had lengthy conversations with the defense to discuss the facts,” related to Manafort’s alleged lies during his cooperation, Weissmann said. “They’re aware the gravemen of what the concerns are.”

Both legal teams will hash that out in court soon, with filings beginning to come in next week about the facts of how Manafort’s cooperation fell apart.

Despite the dispute over whether Manafort breached his plea deal, the two parties struck a cordial tone in the courtroom.

When things wrapped up, lawyers from both sides wished each other “happy holidays,” sometimes shouting across the room, as people started filing out of the chilly courtroom.

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Friday’s hearing in Manafort’s case could have been filled with fireworks. But instead, it was a hashing out of plans and procedures that set up clashes between the attorneys for the coming months.

Amy Berman Jackson of the US District Court has been a harsh critic so far of Manafort’s legal maneuvers. She reprimanded his work ghost-writing an op-ed for a Ukrainian newspaper about himself after his arrest, and she denied every request he made to challenge the legal underpinnings of his indictment and Mueller’s approach. She also revoked his house arrest in June, sending him to jail because of the witness tampering accusation.

Jackson has also taken issue more than once with Manafort’s lead attorney, Kevin Downing, after he grew impassioned during court proceedings and
raised his voice.

She placed a gag order on the case in its early days after Downing spoke to cameras outside the courtroom defending Manafort and President Donald Trump. Jackson has repeatedly warned Manafort’s lawyers and Manafort that they should not play politics, especially in the media, as a way to influence the case.

“Other people can talk about the case … but when those events become orchestrated or entangled, that’s where the risk is of crossing the line,” Jackson said at a hearing for Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates earlier this year, while they both still sought jury trials.

Downing took another unusual step in recent months — of communicating with the President’s legal team about Manafort’s cooperation sessions, according to the President’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. Trump has said recently a pardon for Manafort is not “off the table,” raising questions about whether Trump telegraphed to Manafort to end his cooperation.

Prosecutors simply said earlier this week that Manafort “breached” his agreement by lying “on a variety of subject matters.” They said they would give the judge more details at a later date, before his sentencing.

Jackson did note that the March sentencing date could be moved back as well.

If Jackson agrees that he broke his deal, Manafort’s likely sentence in the DC case could be between 17 and almost 22 years in prison, according to his plea agreement. Prosecutors said they will decide at a later time whether they believe that sentence range should be reduced or increased. “We’re still debating what the consequences will be,” Weissmann said.

Manafort will be sentenced separately on February 8 for his convictions in Virginia.