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Trump, lawmakers negotiate on DACA in televised meeting
President Donald Trump hosted a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers at the White House on Tuesday to discuss the fate of undocumented immigrants protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump rescinded in September. The meeting lasted 90 minutes; reporters were on hand to cover the first 55 minutes, a televised look behind the scenes of congressional "sausage-making." Members of Congress had not expected the meeting to be open to the press, a rare show of transparency seen as an attempt to answer recent questions on the President's preparedness for the job.
Negotiators from both parties seemed to agree on the broad strokes of a deal. According to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, after the television cameras left, Trump and the lawmakers "reached an agreement to negotiate legislation that accomplishes critically needed reforms in four high-priority areas: border security, chain migration, the visa lottery, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy." Trump said that "the following afternoon" after passing the DACA legislation, they could move on to "phase two": comprehensive immigration reform.
There seemed to be some consensus on which issues would be addressed initially in a legislative version of DACA, although the group did not appear to discuss the details of such a bill. According to Politico Playbook, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) are set to meet with Administration officials today to continue negotiations.
A DACA bill that also addresses the aforementioned three GOP priorities — an increase in funding for border security (potentially including money for a border wall), an end to chain migration (which allows immigrants to obtain visas for their extended family members), and enforcement of a merit-based immigration system to replace the visa lottery — represents a sacrifice of principles by both parties.
Democrats have been pushing for a "clean" DACA bill, which would enshrine the program in law before it expires on March 5, with a commitment to pursuing more comprehensive immigration reform later. Trump seemed open to a clean DACA bill when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) suggested it at the Tuesday meeting. "Yeah, I would like to do that," the President responded, causing McCarthy to jump in to clarify that Trump would only support a DACA bill that came with border security proposals. While Durbin and other Democrats seemed to agree to negotiate on the four issues instead of just DACA, some House Democrats remain committed to pushing a "clean" bill.
"The statement issued by the White House is inaccurate," Hoyer said, according to Politico, a sign that some progressive members will not accept a DACA bill with border security measures attached.
Many conservative Republicans, meanwhile, have signaled that they will only support a measure with more immigration restrictions. House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and other House conservatives are set to introduce a bill today which, according to CNN, would fulfill a number of other GOP priorities. Trump called the bill "a good starting point" at the Tuesday meeting.
In language that frustrated many in his base, Trump said Tuesday that he is committing to crafting "a bill of love," a bipartisan agreement to preserve DACA, and then offered to "take the heat" on a future comprehensive immigration reform package. However, Trump's words were often contradictory, appearing open to a "clean" bill one moment and then shooting such legislation down the next. Trump even broached the topic of earmarks, urging Congress to bring back the perks for individual lawmakers' districts that were a standby of important bills until congressional Republicans banned them in 2011.
In addition, the President seemed to waver on the necessity of a full border wall, one of his most frequent promises in the 2016 campaign. But alter Tuesday, Trump clarified his position again, tweeting that "the security of the Wall on the Southern border... must be part of any DACA approval."
Noting the frequent contradictions, Durbin told reporters "my head is spinning" after exiting the meeting. Negotiations continue on Capitol Hill today, as pressure for an agreement builds ahead of a January 19 government funding deadline, with some Democrats threatening to withhold their votes for a spending package without a DACA deal attached.
--- Complicating matters late Tuesday night... a federal judge blocked Trump's reversal of DACA, ordering the Administration to accept renewal applications for the program from immigrants who missed the October 5 deadline. The decision does not require the acceptance of new applications, and it could be overturned by another court, so it is unlikely to change the tenor of congressional negotiations.
Bannon exits Breitbart
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon's steady fall from influence continued on Tuesday, as he left his post as executive chairman of Breitbart News, under pressure from investors after his comments to author Michael Wolff caused a rift with President Trump. In a statement last week, Trump said that his former aide had "lost his mind" since leaving the White House in August. Without the backing of Trump or his billionaire benefactor Rebekah Mercer (who distanced herself from Bannon last week), or the Breitbart platform, Bannon has been fully isolated by the Trump movement that he helped to build. Since leaving the White House, Bannon had aimed to put together a slate of anti-establishment congressional candidates; many of those candidates have now begun to back away from his endorsement.
"I’m proud of what the Breitbart team has accomplished in so short a period of time in building out a world-class news platform," Bannon said in a statement published on Breitbart.
Arpaio launches Senate bid
Former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, who gained national prominence for his hard-line stance on immigration, announced a bid for the open Arizona Senate seat on Tuesday. Arpaio is running to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), joining fellow anti-establishment candidate Kelli Ward in the race; Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) is expected to enter the race with the support of national Republicans on Friday. Arpaio served as sheriff for 24 years, until being defeated for re-election in 2016; President Trump pardoned Arpaio in August after the latter was found guilty of criminal contempt.
"Trump dossier" latest
Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) released a transcript Tuesday of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson's interview with the panel, despite the objections of chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Simpson was a key figure behind the so-called "Trump dossier," which was organized by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele for his firm. In the transcript, Simpson refers to an unnamed "human source" associated with Trump who corroborated information in the dossier to the FBI. In another part of the testimony, when Simpson declined to discuss the dossier's sources, his attorney added that the public release of the document had already resulted in a murder.
Also on Tuesday, President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen filed lawsuits against BuzzFeed (the outlet that published the dossier), Fusion GPS, and Simpson, accusing them of defamation.
North Carolina gerrymandering
A panel of three federal judges struck down a congressional map as "an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander" for the first time in U.S. history on Tuesday, accusing North Carolina Republicans of redrawing the state's 13 districts with "invidious partisan intent." The court said that the state legislature's propsoed map violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and ordered the state to create a new map by January 24. Republicans in the state promised to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, which is already considering two partisan gerrymandering cases, stemming from challenges against Democratic renderings of Wisconsin's state legislative map and Maryland's congressional districts.
White House turnover
White House staffers have been told to "decide before the end of January whether they intend to leave the administration or stay through the November midterm elections," CNN reported Tuesday. The direction comes as chief of staff John Kelly attempts to "fill the ranks" of the West Wing by the end of the month, ahead of an anticipated exodus of presidential aides, including deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn, deputy national security advisor Dina Powell, deputy National Economic Council director Jeremy Katz, and Office of Public Liaison communications director Omarosa Manigault-Newman. Kelly "needs reinforcements," a source told the network. Two other high-level officials named as possible departures in the report: White House counsel Don McGahn and national security advisor H.R. McMaster.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced a plan last week to open over 90 percent of U.S. coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling, sparking immediate protests from governors along the coast, including Republicans Rick Scott (FL), Larry Hogan (MD), Charlie Baker (MA), Chris Christie (NJ), and Henry McMaster (SC). Zinke bowed to the concerns of one of them, Scott, on Tuesday, releasing a statement announcing that he is "removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms." The move came after Scott and much of the Florida congressional delegation announced strong opposition to the Interior Department plan; Zinke met with the governor earlier Tuesday. "I support the governor's position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver," Zinke said in his statement, giving no sign of plans to make changes for the coasts of other states.
A group of Democratic senators held a news conference on Tuesday, promising to force a vote later this year on a resolution overturning the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s reversal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules, which blocked Internet service providers from blocking or slowing down specific websites. In a statement to the Bangor Daily News, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced her support for the resolution; if all 49 Democrats vote "yes," just one more Republican would be needed to pass the measure. The resolution would likely face an uphill climb in the Republican-controlled House, and would face the risk of a Trump veto. Democrats said Tuesday that they plan to bring up the issue during the 2018 midterm elections; "There will be a political price to pay for those who are on the wrong side of history,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), the resolution's sponsor, said.
The President's Schedule
President Trump has a packed public schedule today...
At11am, the President receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 11:30am, he holds a Cabinet meeting. At 12:30pm, he has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
At 2:05pm, Trump meets with Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway. At 2:20pm, the two leaders participate in an expanded bilateral meeting. According to a White House statement, Trump and Solberg will discuss "shared defense and security goals within NATO and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, as well as trade and investment between the United States and Norway." At 3:20pm, they will hold a joint press conference, Trump's first since November. Each leader will answer two questions.
At4pm, President Trump meets with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. At 4:30pm, he meets with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Today in Congress
--- Senate: The Senate meets at 9:30am today. The chamber continues considering a slate of President Donald Trump's district judge nominees, voting today on confirmation of Thomas Lee Robinson Parker to be a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Tennessee and advancing the nomination of Michael Lawrence Brown to be a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Georgia.
The nomination of Parker, a Memphis-based attorney, was advanced in a 96-1 vote, with a lone opposing vote from Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI). Brown is a lawyer based in Atlanta. Prior to going into private practice, both Parker and Brown served as Assistant U.S. Attorneys.
--- House: The House meets at 10am today. The chamber is set to consider two pieces of legislation: a bill clarifying the use of amounts in the White Mountain Apache Tribe (WMAT) Settlement Fund, and a bill requiring a Department of Homeland Security overseas personnel enhancement plan.
At 10am today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, a lawsuit against Ohio's practice of removing people from the state's list of registered voters if they don't vote or respond to a notification after four years. The Philip Randolph Institue has challenged the policy on the grounds that it disproportionately affects minority voters and is illegal under federal law; Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has argued that federal law allows the state to remove such individuals from the voting rolls. Husted's side (which is supported by the Trump Administration and 17 other states) prevailed on the district court level, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Philip Randolph Institue (which is joined in its suit by the NAACP and former Attorney General Eric Holders, among others).