7 min read

Wake Up To Politics - January 15, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, January 15, 2019. 384 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 658 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

DAY 25: Rank-and-file lawmakers seek shutdown solution

Attention has shifted away from the congressional leadership in both parties, who have so far failed to find an end to the ongoing funding impasse, with rank-and-file lawmakers now attempting to cobble together to a deal to resolve the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

A new bipartisan Senate "gang" came together on Monday, with about a dozen senators (split between Democrats and Republicans) meeting at the Capitol, according to the Washington Post and Politico. The meeting included moderates and dealmakers from both sides of the aisle, including Republicans Lisa Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins (ME), Lamar Alexander (TN), Rob Portman (OH), and Lindsey Graham (SC), and Democrats Chris Coons (DE), Doug Jones (AL), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), Tim Kaine (VA).

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) convened the meeting, but did not seem optimistic about the group yielding a solution. "I sat there for an hour and didn't know what the hell it was about," he told reporters after leaving the huddle.  

Manchin's group follows a doomed effort by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) last week to strike a bipartisan deal to end the shutdown. Graham had sought to find a way to pair Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections with the $5 billion in border wall funding requested by Trump, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the White House both signaled that it would not consider such a plan. However, the president did mention DACA in a tweet this weekend, blaming Democrats for not wanting "to include [discussion of the program] in talks."

Graham, who is known to have the president's ear, also proposed on "Fox News Sunday" that President Trump agree to reopen the government for three weeks so federal workers could be paid as negotiations over the border wall continue (Democrats have refused to appropriate any money for the wall until the government reopens). Trump told reporters Monday that he had vetoed that plan. "I did reject it," he said. The president has rejected a number of potential compromises since the shutdown began. Per Axios, he profanely cut off Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney at a meeting with congressional leaders this month when Mulvaney tried to offer a path to "middle ground." Trump reportedly interrupted him: "You just f---ed it all up, Mick."

Trump also said Monday that he is "not looking to call a national emergency," backing away from what some had seen as a potential shutdown exit ramp for the president.

According to Politico, Trump will meet today with a group of moderate House Democrats hailing from red-leaning districts, also seeking to circumvent the Democratic leadership and peel off rank-and-file members for a potential compromise. Per the Wall Street Journal, some freshman House Democrats are "frustrated" by their leaders' strategy and are hoping to find a bipartisan solution.

However, there is not much confidence on Capitol Hill that meetings of rank-and-file lawmakers will yield an end to the weeks-long spending battle, as past shutdowns have almost always been solved by members of leadership and the party leaders' sign-offs will be necessary before anything is put to a vote.

Rep. Steve King stripped of committee assignments amid bipartisan condemnation

The House Republican steering committee voted unanimously on Monday to not give Rep. Steve King (R-IA) any committee assignments in the new Congress, part of a bipartisan wave of punishments for the nine-term lawmaker after he wondered when the terms "white nationalist" and "white supremacist" became "offensive" in an interview with the New York Times.

King served on the House Judiciary, Agriculture, and Small Business Committees in the last Congress. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said he recommended the party take such strong action. "Steve's remarks are beneath the dignity of the party of Lincoln and the United States of America," McCarthy said in a statement. "His comments call into question whether he will treat all Americans equally, without regard for race and ethnicity."

King fired back, saying in a statement that House Republicans had made "a political decision that ignores the truth." He claimed that his quotes in the Times story were "completely mischaracterized."

King's removal from committees came after a number of high-profile Republicans publicly criticized him: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called his comments "unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position," while Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) called for King to resign.

The Iowa Republican is expected to be formally rebuked on the House floor today, when a vote is held on a "resolution of disapproval" offered by Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) to condemn his comments. Democratic Reps. Bobby Rush (IL) and Tim Ryan (OH) separately introduced resolutions to censure King on Monday, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) signaled that only the milder Clyburn resolution would be voted on.

AG nominee Barr to offer support for Mueller probe in confirmation hearing

Attorney General nominee William Barr plans to tell members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing today that it is "vitally important" that special counsel Robert Mueller be allowed to complete his investigation, according to a released copy of his prepared remarks.

"It is in the best interest of everyone — the president, Congress, and, most importantly, the American people — that this matter be resolved by allowing the special counsel to complete his work," Barr will say in his opening statement.

The nominee, who previously served as Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush, will also stress his longtime friendship with Mueller ("I have the utmost respect for Bob and his distinguished record of public service," he will say) and pledge not to improperly interfere with the probe. "If confirmed, I will not permit partisan politics, personal interests, or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation... On my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work," he will promise.

Barr is expected to face extensive questioning about his stance on the Mueller probe from Democratic senators at today's hearing. Some leading Democrats have called for Barr's nomination to be withdrawn after the revelation that he sent a 19-page memo to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and members of the president's legal team last June in which he called Mueller's obstruction of justice investigation into President Trump "fatally misconceived."

In a Monday letter to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Barr said that the memo was "narrow in scope" and only addressed what Mueller had been reported to be investigating at the time. He wrote Graham that he did believe presidents could commit obstruction of justice: "a President, just like anyone else, can obstruct justice if he or she engaged in wrongful actions that impair the availability of evidence." In the letter and prepared testimony, Barr wrote that he will "follow the Special Counsel regulations scrupulously and in good faith."

The two-day confirmation hearing will begin at 9:30 a.m. today. Barr will be introduced by former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who served on the Judiciary Committee until earlier this month, then deliver his opening statement and face two rounds of questioning from the committee members.

The Rundown

2020 Central: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is expected to launch a presidential exploratory committee in an appearance on the "Late Show with Stephen Colbert" tonight, according to CBS News. Gillibrand, who has reportedly already selected a headquarters and top staff members for a prospective campaign, would follow Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who announced an exploratory committee on New Year's Eve. Meanwhile, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard have already joined the 2020 Democratic presidential field.

Trump discussed NATO withdrawal: President Trump privately discussed withdrawing the United States from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) "several times over the course of 2018," the New York Times reported. Weakening NATO, a military alliance between 29 countries in North America and Europe, is a top priority for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Inside the White House: Are the knives out for national security adviser John Bolton? A sampling of stories from recent days in which he figures prominently:

  • "'They screwed this whole thing up': Inside the attempt to derail Trump’s erratic Syria withdrawal" (Washington Post)
  • "White House Sought Options to Strike Iran" (Wall Street Journal)
  • "Pentagon Officials Fear Bolton’s Actions Increase Risk of Clash With Iran" (New York Times)

Do you like Wake Up To Politics? Share it with your colleagues, friends, and family! Please forward this newsletter to them and tell them to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

White House schedule

POTUS: At 12 p.m., President Trump receives his intelligence briefing.

At 12:30 p.m., he has lunch with a group of moderate House Democrats.

At 2:30 p.m., he participates in "a briefing call on the border crisis with state, local, and community leaders."

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. Following leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of S.1, the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act, which would impose additional sanctions on Syria and attempt to counter the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The legislation failed to advance for the third time on Monday; Democrats have refused to support the measure until a vote is held on reopening the government.
The Senate will recess from 12:30 p.m. until 2:15 p.m. for weekly caucus meetings. When the chamber returns, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is expected to force a vote on S.J.Res.2, a resolution that would block Trump administration's plan to lift sanctions on three companies linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who is closely tied to Russian president Vladimir Putin (as well as to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort).

House: The House convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber is scheduled to vote on nine pieces of legislation, including H. J. Res. 27, which would reopen the government through February 28 (at current funding levels), and H.Res. 41, the resolution "rejecting white nationalism and white supremacy" in condemnation of Iowa Rep. Steve King. The other bills set to receive votes today are:

  • H.R. 135 – Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination Act of 2019
  • H.R. 136 – Federal Intern Protection Act of 2019
  • H.R. 202 – Inspector General Access Act of 2019
  • H.R. 113 – All-American Flag Act
  • H.R. 247 – Federal CIO Authorization Act of 2019
  • H.R. 150 – Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency Act of 2019
  • H.R. 190 – Expanding Contract Opportunities for Small Businesses Act of 2019

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. v. Jackson and Azar v. Allina Health Services.

*All times Eastern