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Congress votes to pass massive funding deal, end brief shutdown
Both chambers of Congress approved a massive budget deal early Friday morning, voting to end an hours-long government shutdown.
The legislation, which extended government funding through March 23 as well as increasing federal spending for the next two years, was the result of months of negotiations between congressional leaders. It was endorsed by both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The Senate passed the measure just before 2am, in a 71-28 vote, with 16 Republicans and 12 Democrats voting "nay." The House approved it at around 5:30am, in a 240-186 vote. 73 Democrats broke with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in voting "yea," while 67 House Republicans voted against House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) by voting "nay." Pelosi and her top deputies urged House Democrats to vote against the package, hoping that they could extract a promise from Ryan to hold an immigration vote.
The measure now goes to the President's desk. As of this publication, he has yet to sign the bill, which would reopen the government after it shut down at 12:01am on Friday, about eight hours ago. The White House has signaled that the measure will be signed into law.
How did the government shut down if a majority of lawmakers supported the funding package? Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked consideration of the measure until after the funding deadline at midnight. Despite GOP colleagues pleading with him all Thursday night to allow a vote on the bill, Paul refused after being denied a vote on an amendment to strip the spending increases from the funding measure. Due to a Senate procedure, a vote could not be held until 1am without the unanimous consent of all 100 senators; Paul alone blocked the vote from occurring until the morning, forcing the second government shutdown in three weeks. His amendment was never voted on.
Paul repeatedly accused his colleagues of "hypocrisy," pushing for the budget caps they had enacted with the Budget Control Act of 2011 to remain in place. "Are we to be conservative all the time, or only when we're in the minority?", the Kentucky senator asked on the Senate floor.
However, despite the GOP's traditional aversion to deficit-exploding spending, the measure passed on Friday would increase federal spending by $300 billion over the next two years. According to the deal worked out by leadership, about $160 billion would go to the Defense Department, while about $128 billion goes to domestic programs. The deal allocates over $80 billion in disaster aid to Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico; raises the debt ceiling through March 2019; and includes funding for infrastructure, child care, and combatting opioids.
With the measure's passage, the government remains open until late March, which lawmakers hope will be enough time to find consensus on a long-term omnibus spending bill that will cover the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30.
However, the question of immigration — the issue that caused the last government shutdown, and might have extended this one, had more Democrats voted with their leadership — remains unresolved. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which shields so-called "Dreamers" from deportation, is set to expire on March 5. McConnell has promised a vote on an immigration package in the Senate next week, although it remains unclear what that legislation will look like. Ryan, for his part, told reporters on Thursday: "If anyone doubts my intention to solve this problem and bring up a DACA and immigration reform bill, do not." However, he promised only to a bring a bill "the president will sign" to the floor, not a firm enough commitment for Pelosi.
Kelly faces questions over Porter timeline
"What did he know and when did he know it?" That age-old Washington question, normally reserved for Presidents and lawmakers, is now being applied to White House chief of staff John Kelly, under scrutiny for his support of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned on Wednesday amid allegations of domestic abuse from two ex-wives. Kelly reportedly urged Porter to stay in the West Wing, only reluctantly accepting his resignation.
Now, new reports are shedding light on when exactly Kelly knew of the allegations that first came entered the public sphere on Tuesday. According to the Washington Post, White House counsel Don McGahn was aware of the allegations a year ago; Kelly learned this fall. Additionally, Politico reported that Kelly was told "several weeks ago" that the FBI would deny full security clearance to several White House aides, including Porter, whose clearance had been delayed due to a 2010 protective order one of his ex-wives filed against him. Kelly had reportedly decided to fire all the aides who had been denied clearance, but had yet to act on that plan.
Porter had held interim security clearance since entering the Trump Administration early last year; even as it became clear that he would not receive full clearance, Porter was allowed to continue in his role as Oval Office gatekeeper, managing the flow of people and papers (including handling classified documents) that reached the President's desk. In a separate article, the Washington Post reported that "dozens of White House employees," including presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, have been working under temporary clearance as they await their permanent security clearance to be approved while their FBI background checks continue.
According to The Post's timeline, McGahn learned of the allegations in January 2017. In June, the FBI "flagged some of its findings to the White House. In September, he was told that the domestic violence allegations were delaying Porter's security clearance. In November, he was contacted by an ex-girlfriend ofPorter's about the allegations. McGahn informed Kelly in the fall, sparking whisperings about the allegations throughout the White House; still, both decided that Porter should stay in place.
According to The Post, President Trump was only informed of the accusations when they were published in the Daily Mail this week; he had also been unaware that Porter was dating White House communications director Hope Hicks.
"We all could have done better dealing with this over the last few days," White House spokesman Raj Shah acknowledged on Thursday.
Will the situation prove untenable for Kelly, already on thin ice with the President? "Kelly's job seems secure for now," CNN reported, although one official told the network: "There are a lot of knives out for him." According to the New York Times, Trump has vented his frustration about his chief of staff's missteps to many people, including Kelly's predecessor, former chief of staff Reince Priebus.
Kelly was appointed to the top White House staff job in July to restore order to Priebus' chaotic operation. Yet, he has set off a number of firestorms himself, and now faces the same constant questions about his status that Priebus endured for months. In addition to the Porter fallout, Kelly has generated other negative headlines for the Trump Administration, from his feud with a Democratic congresswoman over a call to a fallen soldier to comments on the Civil War. Just this week, Kelly was criticized for saying some immigrants were "too lazy" to sign up for legal status; he had previously thrown a wrench into immigration talks, and earned the President's frustration, by saying Trump has "evolved" on his support for a border wall.
According to the Times, Trump has even floated Office of Managament and Budget director Mick Mulvaney as a possible successor for Kelly.
"The Rob Portercriss has become a John Kelly crisis, and it has now totally engulfed the West Wing," Axios reports. According to the report, "Trump’s affection for his chief of staff is gone, and Kelly has lost the goodwill of much of his staff. The president is mulling potential replacements, though aides doubt he has it in him to actually fire the retired general."
Pence in Asia: Vice President Mike Pence is in Pyeongchang, South Korea for the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics, avoiding an encounter with a high-level delegation from North Korea. (Associated Press)
Mattis profile: "Can [Defense Secretary James] Mattis check an impulsive president and still retain his trust?" (Washington Post)
Congressman under investigation: A grand jury is questioning former aides to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), as the criminal investigation into his use of political funds for personal use continues. (Politico)
Intel panel: The House Intelligence Committee remains divided as over; soon, it will see a physical, partisan split as well, with plans to construct a wall between Republican and Democratic staffers (CBS News)
#KSGOV: Six teenagers are running for Kansas' governorship, which has no minimum age restrictions. (New York Times)
The President's Schedule
At 11am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing.
At 11:30am, President Trump meets with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
At 3:30pm, President Trump meets with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
There is no press briefing scheduled.
Today in Congress
Both houses of Congress are on recess today, after staying in session until the wee hours of the morning to approve a massive funding deal.