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Trump sees cracks in wall of support from GOP lawmakers
After going largely unchallenged by congressional Republicans in his first two years in office, President Donald Trump is now experiencing increased opposition from his own party on Capitol Hill, particularly on foreign policy.
Trump fired back at his intelligence chiefs in a pair of tweets on Wednesday after they contradicted him on ISIS, North Korea, and Iran in testimony before a Senate panel, calling them "extremely passive and naive." But in the hours following those tweets, many Senate Republicans defended "the intelligence people," as Trump called them. "I have ultimate faith in the intelligence community," Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said Wednesday.
"I think we need to trust their judgment," Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD), the second-highest ranking Senate Republican, told CNN, adding: "I prefer the president would stay off Twitter, particularly with regard to these important national security issues." Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) echoed them: "I have the highest degree of confidence in our intelligence community."
Republican lawmakers have also broken with the president in a number of recent House and Senate votes on his foreign policy moves. Earlier this month, 136 House Republicans joined the Democratic caucus in voting to block the Treasury Department from lifting sanctions on companies linked to a Russian oligarch. Last week, 149 House Republicans voted in favor of a bill that would bar the president from withdrawing from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), amid reporting that he has privately discussed doing so.
And today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — who has partnered with Trump repeatedly throughout his administration on legislation and judicial nominations, with few fractures in their powerful alliance — will hold a vote on an amendment he introduced to "express the sense of the Senate" that the U.S. should keep troops in Syria and Afghanistan, rebuking President Trump's plans for withdrawal.
"Senator McConnell has a different worldview than the president does," Antonia Ferrier, a former adviser to the Kentucky Republican, told the New York Times. "He's a national security hawk who believes American strength in the world is critical." President Trump, on the other hand, was elected on an "America First" platform and has sought to draw back U.S. troops from foreign lands.
Ferrier added that the amendment being considered today was a "message to both our enemies and our allies...that many in America continue to view ISIS and Al Qaeda as a threat in Syria and Afghanistan," even as the president has declared the threat to be minimized.
If the amendment passes, it will be one of the Republican Senate's few acts rebuking President Trump since he was sworn in. In the realm of foreign policy, it could potentially become a pattern, as Trump considers moves that cause unease among GOP lawmakers (such as moving towards a second summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un and gearing up to withdraw troops from Syria) and prepares to nominate a second Defense Secretary for Senate approval, after Republicans bemoaned the exit of his first, James Mattis, who criticized the president's worldview on his way out.
"Power over foreign policy has shifted to the executive branch over the last 30 years," one Republican senator closely allied with McConnell anonymously told The Hill. "Many of us in the Senate want to start taking it back."
--- More: "Trump faces an increasingly adversarial Congress —in both parties" (Washington Post)
The latest: Border talks
--- "Less is more? Trump out of sight as border talks play out" (Associated Press): "Republicans and Democrats alike seem just fine with Trump hanging back as legislators try to work out a deal to keep the government open and resolve a standoff over funding for the president’s long-sought wall at the southern border. In fact, some lawmakers think less Trump might be a good thing, given his rocky relationships with legislators and open criticism of his negotiating abilities."
--- "'Get this done': McConnell moves to avoid new shutdown" (Politico): "Mitch McConnell is willing to go big, go small or anything in between to avoid another government shutdown... McConnell has made no secret of how much he hates shutdowns, particularly the most recent and historic partial funding lapse. He said Tuesday he’ll probably support “whatever works” to avoid another debacle. He’s considering bills to end shutdowns forever and giving his four GOP conference committee negotiators wide berth to strike a deal with Democrats."
--- "Democrats’ Opening Offer: More Customs Officers and Technology, but No Wall" (New York Times): "One thousand new customs officers at ports of entry, imaging technology to scan every vehicle coming into the country, increased spending on the Coast Guard, Secret Service and other agencies, and new technology at mail processing facilities to find fentanyl and other opioids — but nothing for a wall at the southwestern border [in House Democrats' opening bid in border security negotiations."
--- "White House preps emergency wall plan while Congress negotiates" (Politico): "The White House is finalizing details of a potential national emergency declaration to secure President Donald Trump’s border wall, even as lawmakers are trying to broker an immigration deal that could avert another shutdown in just over two weeks."
--- "Pro-Russian Twitter account used non-public material from Mueller's team in effort to discredit Russia probe" (CNN): "The Justice Department alleged Wednesday that Russia has continued pushing online disinformation to discredit the American government, after a pro-Russian Twitter account spread confidential information from a criminal case that special counsel Robert Mueller's team brought against a Russian company for social media conspiracy."
..."The situation stems from terabytes of data in the criminal case against Russian company Concord Management and Consulting, which is accused of funding a social media effort aimed at swaying American voters in 2016. The Justice Department has been turning over evidence to Concord's US-based legal team, who can review it with a limited number of people as they fight the case."
"Prosecutors now allege that some of the information turned over to Concord beforetrial got out in October -- after a now-suspended Twitter user touted that it had a 'Mueller database' and a computer with a Russian IP address published thousands of documents online."
--- "Steven Mnuchin Draws Claims of Conflict of Interest in Decision on Russian Oligarch" (New York Times): "Democrats in Congress raised ethical concerns on Tuesday about connections between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and a billionaire Republican donor who stands to benefit financially from the Trump administration’s decision to lift sanctions on the Russian oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska’s companies."
--- "Lindsey Graham asks FBI to brief Senate panel on Roger Stone’s arrest" (Washington Post): Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray on Wednesday asking for a briefing on last week’s arrest of Roger Stone, a longtime friend and adviser to President Trump."
"In the letter, Graham said he was concerned about the way the arrest was conducted, particularly 'the number of agents involved, the tactics employed, the timing of the arrest' and whether the FBI tipped off members of the media."
--- "Republican move allows House Intel to resume work" (Politico): "Now that the Republican slate [of members on the House Intelligence Committee] is set [after being announced on Wednesday], the full committee with 13 Democrats and nine Republicans can convene and will likely do so as soon as next week. One of its first priorities may be restarting its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which new Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has vowed to reopen."
White House schedule
POTUS: At 11:45 a.m., President Trump meets with American manufacturers and signs an executive order titled "Strengthening Buy American Preferences for Infrastructure Projects," which will encourage recipients of federal financial assistance for infrastructure or construction projects "to use, to the greatest extent practicable, iron and aluminum, as well as, steel, cement, and other manufactured products produced in the United States."
At 2:15 p.m., he receives his intelligence briefing.
At 3:30 p.m., the president meets with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who is leading China's delegation in high-level trade talks with the United States, which are in their second and final day of negotiations today. "China's representatives and I are trying to do a complete deal, leaving NOTHING unresolved on the table," President Trump said in a trio of tweets this morning. "All of the many problems are being discussed and will be hopefully resolved."
He cautioned that "no final deal will be made" until he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping "in the near future." China and the U.S. are seeking to reach a trade agreement by March 1, the deadline when Trump has said he plans to raise tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese products from 10 percent to 25 percent.
VP: At 11:05 a.m., Vice President Mike Pence participates in a briefing at Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) headquarters.
At 11:40 a.m., he delivers remarks to DEA employees.
At 4:30 p.m., the vice president participates in a swearing-in ceremony for Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director James Carroll.
Senate: The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. The chamber will resume consideration of S.1, the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act.
At 3:30 p.m., the Senate will vote on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's amendment to the legislation, "to express the sense of the Senate that the United States faces continuing threats from terrorist groups operating in Syria and Afghanistan and that the precipitous withdrawal of United States forces from either country could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security."
House: No votes are expected in the House today.
Supreme Court schedule
The Supreme Court is currently between sittings.
*All times Eastern