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Wake Up To Politics - January 16, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, January 16, 2019. 383 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 657 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

DAY 26: Shutdown maneuvering continues

The partial government shutdown, now in its fourth week and the longest in U.S. history, "is inflicting far greater damage on the United States economy than previously estimated," the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) acknowledged in revised estimates Tuesday, according to the New York Times. The CEA now says the shutdown reduces quarterly economic growth by 0.1 percentage points for every week that it lasts; previously, the agency estimated that the cost would be 0.1 percentage points for every two weeks.

Per the Times, "the [CEA] analysis, and other projections from outside the White House, suggests that the shutdown has already weighed significantly on growth and could ultimately push the United States economy into a contraction."

Meanwhile, the Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it would attempt to blunt the shutdown's impact by calling about 46,000 additional federal workers back to work "to fulfill key government tasks, including disbursing tax refunds, overseeing flight safety and inspecting the nation’s food and drug supply," according to the Washington Post. These federal employees, like others who have been working during the shutdown, will not be paid until the government reopens.

On Tuesday, 42,000 active-duty Coast Guard members missed their first scheduled paycheck since the shutdown began; Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said it "marks the first time in our Nation's history that service members in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in government appropriations. (The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which has not yet been funded for this fiscal year. All other military branches are part of the Department of Defense, which has been funded.)

Negotiations to end the funding stalemate have stalled at the top levels, and are now taking place solely along rank-and-file members. President Donald Trump invited such members, from both parties, for a White House meeting on Tuesday, but only Republicans accepted his invitation. Trump was hoping to circumvent Democratic leadership and strike a compromise with moderate House Democrats, but the Democrats who were invited all declined, in a show of party unity.

The president is scheduled to meet today with members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus; per Politico Playbook, "Republicans and Democrats are expected to attend this meeting."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Tuesday that he had not heard from the president in several days. "I'll meet with him anytime he wants," Schumer said. "As you know, the last time I spoke with him was when he walked out, threw a temper tantrum and walked out, so we haven't heard from him since then," referring to the meeting one week ago which the president stormed out of after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reiterated that she would not accept his $5 billion border wall request.

A bipartisan "gang" of senators is also continuing to seek a resolution to the shutdown; per the Washington Post's Robert Costa, the group is hoping to release a letter to President Trump today pledging to hold talks on boosting border security funding after the government reopens. But, without party leaders involved or anything substantive to offer Trump, "few senators believe the group has a real shot at success," Politico reports.

AG nominee Barr pressed on Mueller probe in confirmation hearing

President Trump's Attorney General nominee, William Barr, was pressed on his stance on special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation in his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

Barr made clear his support for Mueller, emphasizing their personal relationship, calling it "vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation" and pledging to "not permit partisan politics, personal interests, or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation."

Asked by chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) if he believes the Mueller probe is a "witch hunt," as the president claims, Barr responded: "I don't believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt." He also signaled that he would not follow President Trump's orders if directed to fire Mueller: "Under the regulations, Bob Mueller can only be terminated for good cause," he said. "Frankly, it is unimaginable to me that Bob would do anything that gave rise to good cause."

The nominee, who previously served as Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush, was pressed on a memo he wrote last year to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggesting that Mueller's obstruction of justice probe could be "fatally misconceived"; he also sent the document to members of President Trump's legal team. Barr insisted that he "wasn't trying to ingratiate [himself] with anybody" by penning the memo, and emphasized that it was based only on public reports about the investigation.

Barr would not commit to releasing the Mueller report to the public: "I don't know, at the end of the day, what will be release-able," he said. He also wouldn't say whether he would recuse himself from leading the Mueller probe, or promise to follow the advice of Justice Department ethics officials. "I will seek the advice of the career ethics personnel," he said, "but under the regulations, I make the decision as the head of the agency as to my own recusal."

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, who has led the Justice Department since Jeff Sessions departed after the midterm elections, ignored the recommendation of ethics officials and has not recused himself from the probe.

--- Happening today: The Judiciary Committee will hold the second day of Barr's confirmation hearing, set aside for testimony from the following outside witnesses: former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, NAACP president Derrick Johnson, former deputy attorney general Larry Thompson, National Urban League president Marc Morial, former Bush 41 speechwriter Mary Kate Cary, law professors Neil Kinkopf and Jonathan Turley, Rev. Sharon Washington Risher, and Fraternal Order of Police president Chuck Canterbury.

Gillibrand forms 2020 exploratory committee

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced her formation of a presidential exploratory committee in a Tuesday appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." Gillibrand's move makes it almost certain that she will wage a presidential campaign in 2020.

"I'm going to run for president of the United States because as a young mom, I'm going to fight for other people's kids as hard as I would fight for my own," she told Colbert.

In the Senate, Gillibrand has emerged as a leading critic of the Trump administration and a top advocate for women's causes, making sexual assault (in the military, on college campuses, and in workplaces) her signature issue well before the #MeToo movement began.

She is the second U.S. senator to begin formally exploring a 2020 presidential bid, following Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) have already announced their campaigns.

The Investigations

Mueller probe: The Mueller investigation is reportedly coming to an end, but the special counsel has continued to issue subpoenas. Per ABC News, Mueller has recently subpoenaed at least three new witnesses connected to conservative commentator Jerome Corsi, an associate of longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, to appear before a federal grand jury. Corsi is being investigated for possibly acting as a back-channel between Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange ahead of the Hillary Clinton email release.

--- "New court filing indicates prosecutors have extensive details on Manafort actions not yet made public" (Washington Post)
Congressional investigations: Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker will testify before the House Judiciary Committee on February 8, chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) announced on Tuesday. Democrats will grill Whitaker on his interactions with Mueller and his decision not to recuse himself from the special counsel investigation.

--- "Mueller Probe Likely to Restrict Michael Cohen's Testimony" (Wall Street Journal)

--- "Adam Schiff makes specialty hires for reopened Russia probe" (CBS News)

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White House schedule

POTUS: At 11:30 a.m., President Trump meets with the Problem Solvers Caucus in the White House Situation Room.

At 1 p.m., he has lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

At 2:15 p.m., he participates in a signing ceremony for S. 24, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019, which guarantees back-pay for the federal workers who have been furloughed or working without pay during the partial government shutdown.

VP: At 10:20 a.m., Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks to the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference at the State Department, a two-day summit of all of the United States' ambassadors.

At 11:30 a.m., Pence joins Trump for the meeting with the Problem Solvers Caucus.

Then, the vice president will meet with a series of U.S. ambassadors: Richard Grenell (Germany) at 1 p.m., Terry Branstad (China) at 1:15 p.m., Gordon Sondland (European Union) at 1:30 p.m., and Woody Johnson (United Kingdom) at 1:45 p.m.

At 2:15 p.m., the vice president attends the signing ceremony for S.24.

At 3:45 p.m., the vice president meets with "Angel Families," relatives of victims killed by illegal immigrants.

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of S.J.Res.2, a resolution blocking the Trump administration's plan to lift sanctions on three companies linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. At 12:30 p.m., the Senate will hold a cloture vote on the resolution, which will require 60 votes to advance. The Senate voted 57-42 on Monday to begin debate on the resolution, with 11 Senate Republicans breaking with the Trump administration in support of the measure.  

House: The House meets at 10 a.m. today. The chamber will vote on H.R. 268, the Disaster Supplemental Appropriations Act, a package providing $12.14 billion in aid to Americans affected by recent natural disasters, which has also been amended to reopen the government through February 8.

Other measures set to be voted on in the House today: H.R. 190 (the Expanding Contract Opportunities for Small Businesses Act of 2019) and H.R. 150 (the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency Act of 2019).

--- The House could also take action today on resolutions introduced by Reps. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Tim Rya (D-OH) to censure Rep. Steve King (R-IA) for comments he made questioning whether the term "white nationalist" should be offensive. The House voted 424-1 on Tuesday to approve a resolution "rejecting white nationalism and white supremacy," condemning the substance of King's remarks but not King himself. Rush was the sole member to vote against the measure, which he felt was not strong enough. King voted in favor.

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania and Tennesee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Blair.

*All times Eastern