I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, January 11, 2019. 388 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 662 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com.
Day 21: Trump mulls emergency declaration as shutdown to become longest in U.S. history
President Donald Trump appears to be moving closer to declaring a national emergency, which would allow him to use Defense Department funds to build his proposed wall at the U.S-Mexico border. The move is now seen as the only viable end to the current partial government shutdown, which will be the longest federal funding gap in U.S. history if it continues through the end of the day.
According to NBC News, the president has been briefed on a plan that would divert Army Corps of Engineers funds set aside for disaster relief projects in Puerto Rico, California, and other storm-damaged areas to pay for the construction of 315 miles of the border wall, if Trump signs an emergency declaration. Under this scenario, Trump would likely sign a spending bill to reopen the government, dropping his demand for Congress to appropriate $5.7 billion in wall funding.
"I probably will do it, I would almost say definitely," the president told reporters before departing for a visit to the border Thursday, adding: "If we don't make a deal, I would say 100 percent but I want to say 100 percent."
A deal seemed increasingly out of reach on Thursday, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) admitted defeat after attempting to jump-start bipartisan negotiations to find an alternative way to end the shutdown. "I'm done," he told reporters, abandoning his effort to strike an agreement that would have fully funded the border while offering concessions on immigration to Democrats. According to the New York Times, the talks collapsed after Vice President Mike Pence signaled that Trump would not back such a deal. "I've never been more depressed about moving forward than right now," Graham said.
Later Thursday, he endorsed an emergency declaration, saying in a statement: "It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier. I hope it works." Graham is also the newly-installed chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But many other Republican senators have expressed skepticism about Trump declaring a national emergency, while House Democrats are promising a legal challenge to the move.
The effects of the shutdown will be felt acutely today by hundreds of thousands of federal workers, who are supposed to receive their paychecks today, but won't because of the lack of government funding. The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that guarantees back-pay for the federal workers, but it would only go into effect retroactively once the shutdown has ended.
Syria withdrawal begins: The U.S. military announced this morning that it has begun withdrawing troops from Syria, "initiating a drawdown that has blindsided allies and sparked a scramble for control of the areas that American troops will leave," per the Washington Post. President Trump suddenly announced last month that the U.S. would withdraw the 2,000 American troops stationed in Syria, a decision that surprised many allies and officials inside the Pentagon, and led to the resignations of Defense Secretary James Mattis and the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Brett McGurk. National security adviser John Bolton caused further confusion earlier this week that the U.S. wouldn't leave Syria until Turkey promised not to target the U.S.' Kurdish allies in the region, although the Pentagon appears to be moving forward with withdrawal plans regardless.
Cohen to testify: The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced on Thursday that President Trump's former longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, would testify before the panel on February 7. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison last month after entering guilty pleas to various crimes to federal prosecutors in New York as well as special counsel Robert Mueller. He also implicated the president in an illegal ploy to pay hush money just before the 2016 election to two women claiming to have had affairs with Trump. In a statement, Cohen (who has been charged with lying to Congress in the past) promised to provide "a full and credible account" of his work for Trump.
Republicans condemn King: Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has come under fire after questioning in a New York Times interview published Thursday when the terms "white nationalist" and "white supremacist" became "offensive." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy denounced King's comments in a statement, saying: "Everything about white supremacy and white nationalism goes against who we are as a nation. Steve's language is reckless, wrong, and has no place in our society." McCarthy was joined by other House Republican leaders in sharply criticizing King. The Iowa Republican issued a statement after the Times article's publication, saying that he is a "nationalist" but not a white nationalist or a white supremacist, adding: "I reject those labels and the ideology that they define." According to Politico, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) is drafting a censure resolution to condemn King's comments on the House floor.
White House schedule
POTUS: At 2:30 p.m., President Trump hosts a roundtable discussion on "border security and safe communities with state, local, and community leaders."
VP: At 11:30 a.m., Vice President Mike Pence participates in a briefing at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) headquarters at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.
At 12 p.m., the vice president will deliver remarks and hold a meet-and-greet with CBP employees.
Senate: The upper chamber convenes at 10 a.m. today. No roll call votes are scheduled.
House: The lower chamber meets at 9 a.m. today. The House will vote on H.R. 266, which would fund the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through September 30. The chamber approved two other appropriation bills on Thursday, one to reopen the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Departments (which received 12 Republican votes) and another to reopen the Agriculture Department (which received 10 Republican votes). Eight Republicans supported a bill to reopen the Treasury Department on Wednesday.
The House is also scheduled to consider S. 24, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act, and H.R. 221, the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act, today.
Supreme Court schedule
The justices meet for their Friday conference today.
--- Related: After going 25 years on the bench without missing any oral arguments, Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg missed three straight days of arguments this week as she recovers from cancer surgery. Per Politico, the White House "is reaching out to political allies and conservative activists groups to prepare" for Ginsburg's possible departure from the court.
*All times Eastern