I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, January 30, 2019. 16 days until government funding expires. 369 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 643 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com.
House, Senate conferees start border talks
The bipartisan, bicameral congressional conference committee appointed to negotiate a border security compromise meets for the first time today. The panel aims to craft a deal that will avoid another partial government shutdown when funding for about one-fourth of the government expires on February 15, just more than two weeks away.
According to Bloomberg, some allies of President Donald Trump have called for expanding the specter of negotiations to include a debt ceiling increase to avoid another fiscal showdown when the debt limit is reached on March 1. But that idea was immediately rejected by congressional Democrats. "Let's not make this harder than it needs to be," House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), a member of the conference committee, said in dismissing that proposal, which had been floated chiefly by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). "I'm focused on border security."
Per Politico, "the prospect of a big deal on border security and immigration is essentially dead" before talks have even begun, with Democrats also "ruling out the idea of negotiating on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals." Instead, according to the report, a limited deal is much more likely, which would mean President Trump would probably receive "only a fraction" of the $5.7 billion he has requested for his proposed border wall. Hanging over the negotiations is the possibility that the president will declare a national emergency to unilaterally finance the construction of the wall if Congress does not appropriate a large enough sum for the project. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have urged the president not to declare a national emergency: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called it "a terrible idea" on Sunday.
"If the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on Border Security is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!" President Trump tweeted this morning. According to the Washington Post, Republicans plan to use Trump's $5.7 billion figure as their "starting point" for the talks, "but they are aware that in a negotiation with Democrats they will end up with a lower number."
Republican aides also told The Post that the GOP conferees know they will have to strike a compromise "on the details of how funds are allocated," perhaps bowing to Democratic opposition to the border wall and instead moving forward with other "smart border security" upgrades. "It could be a barrier, it doesn't have to be a wall," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said, as some Democrats have appeared to be warming to the idea of "barriers" in recent days.
Overall, the Post reports, the Republican conferees are going into the committee today without a "clear signal from President Trump on what he would accept" and how much they are able to negotiate.
The 17-member conference committee is made up of members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, who are known much more as dealmakers than partisan bomb throwers. ("There are Republicans, there are Democrats, and then there are appropriators," the late Arizona Sen. John McCain would often say, according to the New York Times).
This makeup has led to hope on both sides that some sort of agreement can be reached. "Republicans and Democrats can sit down and come together on a reasonable approach," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), a conferee, said confidently.
--- No more shutdowns? Three separate bills have been introduced in recent days to end the practice of government shutdowns once and for all: the End Government Shutdowns Act by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), the Stop STUPIDITY Act by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), and the Shutdown to End All Shutdowns Act by a group of House freshmen. The measures differ in the details, but would all aim to impose automatic continuing resolutions (CRs) in the event of a funding lapse to ensure federal workers continue to receive pay even if new appropriations bills aren't passed.
There are signs that congressional leaders could be warming to the idea: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Tuesday that he is "open" to the proposals, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) have also expressed interest.
2020 no-goes: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced on Tuesday that he would not wage a campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, after mulling a bid for months. "I realize that this is what I am meant to do. This is where I want to be," Garcetti said of serving as mayor. "I believe that whenever possible, you should finish the job you started out to do."
--- Two other 2020 contenders seemed to close the door on White House runs Tuesday as they signed up as television commentators. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), in his debut as a CBS News contributor, said that he hopes President Trump has a Republican primary challenger, but it won't be him. "I have always said that I do hope that there is a Republican who challenges the president in the primary," he said. "I still hope that somebody does, but that somebody won't be me. I will not be a candidate."
Meanwhile, newly-minted CNN contributor Andrew Gillum, the 2018 Democratic Florida gubernatorial nominee, said he had made a decision to watch the 2020 primaries and not run as a candidate himself, as some had urged him to do.
Gabbard flameout: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), 37, announced her presidential campaign earlier this month in a CNN interview; she plans to formally launch her campaign on Saturday. But according to Politico, her nascent effort is already "in disarray," with Gabbard's campaign manager planning to depart and a prominent Hawaii Democratic state legislator announcing a primary challenge for her House seat.
Intel chiefs split with Trump
The top U.S. intelligence chiefs contradicted past statements by President Trump on several issues in testimony before a Senate panel on Tuesday. Some examples, via CNN:
- Trump in December 2018: "We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them and we've beaten them badly."
- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Tuesday: "ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria."
- Trump in June 2018: "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."
- Coats on Tuesday: "We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival."
- Trump in May 2018: "It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement."
- Coats on Tuesday: "We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking the key activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device."
Notably, the intelligence community's assessment of worldwide threats (which the chiefs were on Capitol Hill to present) also included two issues President Trump has dismissed in the past (climate change and Russian election interference), while including no mention of one he has focused much of his attention on (the situation on the southern border).
Abrams to give Democratic SOTU response
2018 Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams will deliver the Democratic response to President Trump's State of the Union address next week, Democratic leaders announced on Tuesday.
"At a moment when our nation needs to hear from leaders who can unite for a common purpose, I am honored to be delivering the Democratic State of the Union response," Abrams, often mentioned as a rising star in the party, said on Twitter.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra will deliver the Democrats' Spanish-language response.
White House schedule
POTUS: At 11:30 a.m., President Trump receives his intelligence briefing.
--- This is the fifth consecutive day in which the president has had no public events.
VP: Vice President Mike Pence has no events on his public schedule today.
Senate: The Senate convenes at 12 p.m. today. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume debate over S.1, the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act, which would impose additional sanctions on Syria, boost military support for Israel and Jordan, and allow state and local governments to break ties with companies that boycott or divest from Israel. The Senate voted 76-22 on Tuesday to formally begin debate on the measure, with support from all present Republicans and 22 Democrats.
House: The House convenes at 9 a.m. today. The chamber is set to consider two pieces of legislation: H.R. 790, the Federal Civilian Workforce Pay Raise Fairness Act, which would enact a 2.6% pay increase for federal civilian workers, and H.Res. 79, "expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Government shutdowns are detrimental to the Nation and should not occur."
Supreme Court schedule
The Supreme Court is currently between sittings.
*All times Eastern