I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, January 7, 2019. 392 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 666 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shutdown continues; Trump warns it could last "months or even years"
As a new week begins, the partial government shutdown is slated to continue, with no end in sight or any indication that the two parties are any closer to a funding deal.
Vice President Mike Pence led meetings with a bipartisan group of congressional leadership aides at the White House on Saturday and Sunday; although President Donald Trump tweeted that it was "a productive meeting," a Democratic staffer told reporters that the negotiations yielded "no progress." The staffer added: "At this time, there is not another meeting of this group scheduled."
Acting White House budget director Russell Vought sent congressional leaders a letter Sunday detailing President Trump's $5.7 billion request "for construction of a steel barrier for the Southern border," insisting that "a physical barrier — wall — creates an enduring capability that helps field personnel stop, slow down and/or contain illegal entries." Trump has refused to sign into law any spending bill that does not fully fund his wall request.
In his tweets and public comments Sunday, President Trump emphasized that he was now willing to build the border wall out of steel, instead of concrete, which he has characterized as a concession to Democrats. Steel "is both stronger & less obtrusive," he tweeted. After returning from a White House staff retreat at Camp David, he told reporters Sunday of the Democrats: "They don't like concrete, so we'll give them steel."
But there is no sign that Democratic lawmakers are any more receptive to a steel wall or that they have at all moved from the posture that now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) described in an NBC interview last week when asked if she would accept any funding for the border wall: "No. How many more times can we say no? Nothing for the wall."
Vought's letter did include a request for $800 million in additional funds "to address urgent humanitarian needs" at the border, a Democratic priority, although it is far from likely to be enough to bridge the gap between the two parties.
Pelosi announced this weekend that, after passing two continuing resolutions last week that would have funded the Department of Homeland Security through February and the rest of the government through September, the House Democratic majority would now turn to passing measures to open up government agencies, one by one. Pelosi added that the first continuing resolution they would consider on Wednesday would fund the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service, as "more than $140 billion in tax refunds are at risk of being frozen or delayed if the government shutdown stretches into February," according to the Washington Post.
The Democrats are hoping the ploy will pressure Senate Republicans to join them in urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to put the continuing resolutions up to a vote and end the shutdown. Already, there are signs of cracks in support for the shutdown on the GOP side. In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) urged McConnell to hold votes on the House-passed bills to open the non-DHS agencies. "Let's get those reopened while the negotiations continue," she said, echoing the Democratic position.
As the stalemate drags on, President Trump has said that he is considering declaring a national emergency to unilaterally secure funding for the border wall from the Department of Defense. "We're looking at a national emergency because we have a national emergency," he told reporters. According to Bloomberg, "White House lawyers and key budget staff have been looking into [the idea] for weeks," and "some advisers close to Trump are recommending" that he move forward with it.
Meanwhile, the impacts of the shutdown continue to pile up. According to the Post, in addition to the threatened tax refunds, the shutdown continuing into February would also result in "severe reductions" to food stamps for 38 million low-income Americans. According to CNN, hundreds of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers are calling out sick instead of continuing to work without pay, a potential threat to air travel safety. Per the New York Times, the shutdown has also "emptied some laboratories across the country," resulting in a mounting toll on science and government research.
The National Park Service announced Sunday that it would take the unprecedented step of tapping entrance fees to pay for maintenance operations, which some Democrats have called a violation of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, which requires that fees only support visitor services. Unlike under previous administrations, the Park Service has decided to keep its sites open during the shutdown, but with a very limited staff presence. According to National Geographic, the parks could face "years of damage" from staying open unattended during the funding gap without staff to mind "brimming trashcans, overflowing toilets, and trespassing."
If the shutdown continues through Friday, 800,000 federal workers will miss their first scheduled paycheck. Already, the closure has lasted 17 days, making it the second-longest shutdown in U.S. history. If it lasts to Saturday, it will become the longest government shutdown ever. But with no more meetings currently scheduled between Congress and the White House, or any sign of a deal in the making, many in Washington are reportedly prepared for the shutdown to stretch into the long haul.
President Trump said Friday that it could possibly last for "months or even years."
My favorite tweet as my winter break ends and second semester starts today, via NYT's Katie Rosman: "My daughter says she is NOT GOING TO SCHOOL tomorrow because the government forces kids to go to school which makes them, essentially, government employees, and government employees are in a shut-down."
Race to the White House: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) visited Iowa, the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus state, this weekend for the first time since launching a presidential exploratory committee last week. "I'm here tonight because I believe. I believe in what we can do," Warren said in Des Moines on Saturday night. "I believe that this, right now, is our moment. Our moment to dream big, to fight hard, and to take back this country." Politico declared that she had "regain[ed] footing" during the trip, after a series of perceived missteps, including the fumbled October release of a DNA test.
--- Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro visits Iowa today to hold small meetings with elected officials, community leaders, and activists in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Castro, who is also formally exploring a presidential bid, is expected to launch his campaign in San Antonio on Saturday.
--- According to the New York Times, former Vice President Joe Biden is "in the final stages of deciding whether to run for president and has told allies that he is skeptical the other Democrats eyeing the White House can defeat President Trump." After 40+ years of political experience, including eight years as vice president, Biden would likely enter the primaries as the early frontrunner. The Times reported that he "has indicated that he is leaning toward running and will most likely make a decision within the next two weeks."
--- Per CNN, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is gearing up for a potential presidential campaign, planning for a headquarters in Newark, a "message of unity and love," and a possible campaign manager in Addisu Demissie, who led Booker's 2013 Senate bid and California Gov. Gavin Newsom's successful campaign last year.
KS-SEN: Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) announced Friday that he wouldn't seek re-election in 2020, spurring an open race to succeed him. According to the Kansas City Star, potential GOP candidates for the seat include outgoing Gov. Jeff Colyer, Rep. Roger Marshall, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, former Rep. Kevin Yoder, American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai. Another name that has been thrown out: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who served as a Kansas congressman before joining the Trump administration.
The Trump Administration
Syria: National security adviser John Bolton on Sunday signaled a delay in President Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria, telling reporters in Israel that troops would remain until ISIS is fully defeated and Turkey provided guarantees that it won't attack Kurdish forces in Syria allied with the U.S. "There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal," Bolton said, seemingly extending the timeline laid out by the president's abrupt December announcement that all U.S. forces in Syria would exit immediately, which caused disarray in the government and led to Defense Secretary James Mattis' resignation.
In an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a Trump ally, referred to the slow-down in removing troops as "the reality setting in that you've got to plan this out." President Trump confirmed Sunday that troops "won't be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone," which he said was "going quickly."
White House schedule
POTUS: At 12:30 p.m., President Trump has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence.
At 2 p.m., he receives his daily intelligence briefing.
Senate: The Senate is not in session today.
House: No House votes are expected today.
Supreme Court schedule
In Friday's newsletter, I misstated the party affiliations of Sens. Cordy Gardner and Chuck Schumer. Gardner is a Colorado Republican; Schumer, the Senate minority leader, is a New York Democrat. My apologies for the errors, and thanks to the subscribers who pointed them out. My New Year's resolution for 2019: less typos!
*All times Eastern