I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, January 17, 2019. 18 days until government funding expires. 371 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 645 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm back home after an amazing week at a Model United Nations in Doha, Qatar! Thanks all for your understanding during my absence. Now back to the news...
Federal employees return to work as three-week clock ticks
Federal agencies reopen for business today and hundreds of thousands of federal employees return to work from 35 days of being furloughed, after President Donald Trump signed a temporary funding bill on Friday night to end the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. The stopgap bill reopens the government until February 15; no money was included in the measure for Trump's proposed border wall, his signature campaign promise and the issue behind the shutdown. Instead, a conference committee has been designated for legislators to jumpstart negotiations over border security.
The bipartisan and bicameral committee, made up of 17 members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, will meet for the first time on Wednesday to search for a border security compromise. President Trump told the Wall Street Journal in an interview Sunday that he is skeptical the congressional negotiators will be able to strike a deal. "I personally think [the chances of a deal emerging are] less than 50-50, but you have a lot of very good people on that board," he said.
If no deal is reached, the president is considering declaring a national emergency to unilaterally finance construction of the wall, as he signaled when he signed the stopgap funding bill without wall funding on Friday. "We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier," he said. "If we don't get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency."
Agreeing to a deal without wall funding was a major reversal for the president, who had spent more than a month refusing to sign a clean funding bill, relenting only after federal employees had already missed two paychecks. The move opened Trump up to immediate criticism from his base (commentator Ann Coulter called him the "biggest wimp" in presidential history), adding to the heat he already felt from political independents as well as moderates in and out of his own party. A Washington Post/ABC poll released this morning found the president's approval rating at 37%, one point above his record low. According to the poll, 53% of Americans blame him and congressional Republicans for the shutdown, while 60% disapprove of how he handled efforts to end it.
Trump also faces other concerns beyond the funding talks. As the shutdown was coming to an end, special counsel Robert Mueller's probe reared up again, as Trump's longest-tenured political adviser Roger Stone was arrested and indicted on seven counts of obstruction, false statements, and witness tampering. In an interview on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, Stone also opened the door to cooperation with the special counsel, promising to "testify honestly" on matters including his "communications with the president." Trump also faces the publication this week of two books from onetime allies, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and ex-White House communications aide Cliff Sims. Both books are expected to paint an unflattering picture of the president's often-turbulent inner circle.
And while his shutdown about-face likely weakened President Trump, it had the opposite effect for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who emerged strengthened from the first test of the newly-divided government. According to the New York Times, Trump's post-shutdown poll numbers have also given way to internal panic about his re-election chances in 2020, including about the prospect of a primary challenge. And per the Washington Post, "frustration and discord within the [Republican Party] over the partial government closure" has set in, with GOP lawmakers "reeling" and fearing for their own propsects in the 2020 elections.
Inside the White House, Trump's "aides and advisers are despondent over a wasted month," CNN reported. According to the network, the president has been in a "very sour mood" since the shutdown, lashing out "at aides he believes bear some responsibility for the morass." But in public, Trump's unshaking confidence in his own abilities has remained.
Trump insisted in a tweet on Friday that signing the funding bill "was in no way a concession." In a missive on Sunday, he ticked off the accomplishments of his administration thus far and asked: "Does anybody really think I won't build the WALL?" But according to the Post-ABC poll, the answer to his rhetorical question may be "yes," with 57% of Americans rating the president negatively for his handling of border security and just 35% saying they are confident he will make positive decisions going forward.
U.S., Taliban reach framework for peace deal
Breaking this morning from the New York Times: "American and Taliban officials have agreed in principle to the framework of a peace deal in which the insurgents guarantee to prevent Afghan territory from being used by terrorists, and that could lead to a full pullout of American troops in return for a cease-fire and Taliban talks with the Afghan government, the chief United States negotiator said Monday."
Schultz: "I love our country and I am seriously considering running for president as a centrist independent," former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz tweeted on Sunday. Schultz also told the New York Times that he has already begun preparations for an Independent bid.
--- Political strategist Joel Searby, who managed Evan McMullin's Independent presidential campaign in 2016, tells Wake Up To Politics: "Schultz is certainly a serious, credible candidate on his own merits. He has the resources and personal skill to mount a serious campaign. The immediate and tenacious calls for him not to run by Democrats is predictable and, unfortunately completely against the core ideals of our democratic system. It's true that Schultz could take votes from a Democrat. He could also take votes from Trump. But more fundamentally, he has the right and privilege as a qualified citizen of this country to run for President."
Harris: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) launched her presidential campaign with a rally in Oakland on Sunday. More: "Sen. Kamala Harris formally opens her presidential campaign with a mix of unity and blunt talk about race" (Washington Post)
--- Harris is in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa today. At 10 p.m., she will participate in CNN's first town hall of the 2020 cycle, taking questions from Iowa voters at a live event moderated by anchor Jake Tapper.
Sanders: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has decided to wage another Democratic primary campaign for the White House, Yahoo News reports. According to the report, Sanders "plans to announce his presidential bid imminently."
White House schedule
POTUS: The only event on President Trump's public schedule today is a 12:30 p.m. lunch with Vice President Mike Pence.
Senate: The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. today and resumes consideration of S.1, the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act, which would impose additional sanctions on Syria and punish companies that participate in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The measure failed to advance three times during the government shutdown (with Democrats refusing to back any legislation that didn't reopen the government), but is expected to advance after a fourth cloture vote at 5:30 p.m. today.
House: The House meets today at 12 p.m. The chamber is scheduled to consider three pieces of legislation: H.R. 624, the Promoting Transparent Standards for Corporate Insiders Act; H.R. 502, the FIND Trafficking Act; and H.R. 56, the Financial Technology Protection Act.
More: "As Government Reopens, the New Congress Tries to Begin Again" (New York Times)
Supreme Court schedule
The Supreme Court is between sittings; the justices will return to work for a conference on February 15.
*All times Eastern