National Political Correspondent

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: The Winter Olympics begin one month from today in South Korea, and American officials are reportedly contemplating a “bloody nose” strike on nuclear North Korea, yet President Trump still has not nominated an ambassador to Seoul.

Next Saturday brings the anniversary of the inauguration. Over the first year, a fixation on the chaos and churn inside the West Wing has often overshadowed the less-sexy decay and neglect at the departmental level. There are a striking number of big jobs that have not been filled.

The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, have been working together to track the status of 626 top jobs in the executive branch. This includes assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsels, heads of agencies, ambassadors and other leadership positions that experts believe are critical for the federal government to function effectively. These represent about half of the roughly 1,200 positions that require Senate confirmation.

The White House likes to blame Congress for dragging its feet, but that’s only part of the story: As of this morning, there is no pending nominee for 245 of the 626 jobs we're tracking. Among them: deputy secretary at Treasury and Commerce, director of the Census, director of ATF, director of the Office on Violence Against Women at Justice and commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

At Veterans Affairs, no one has been tapped to be the undersecretary for health or benefits.

At the Transportation Department, there is not a nominee to be administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration or National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Trump has not submitted nominees to direct the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the U.S. Geological Survey. He has also not picked someone to be assistant secretary of Interior for fish, wildlife and parks.

Many of these jobs have “acting” directors, but these people aren’t fully empowered and cannot indefinitely stay in these roles without being confirmed by the Senate because of laws related to vacancies. The lack of permanence creates uncertainty and makes strategic planning difficult. It also makes it harder to manage career staff, who are less likely to follow orders they disagree with when they realize that their boss is a short-timer.

“It’s pretty striking to see how many open positions there are all over the place,” said Max Stier, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service. “This administration is way behind prior presidents in actually staffing out the government. They still have a very long distance to travel.”

-- Here’s a visualization of how many spots remain vacant in each Cabinet department. Thanks to Kevin Uhrmacher on our graphics team for preparing it:

(Check out our database, which gets updated daily.)

-- As you can see, no department has more unfilled slots than State. Rex Tillerson wanted to conduct a review of how the department worked before he filled all the open positions. He resisted some people that the White House wanted, and for a variety of other well-documented reasons he found himself on thin ice with the president.

As official Washington speculates about when “Rexit” will come, there are still no nominees for these 12 assistant secretary positions: African affairs; Near Eastern affairs; South Asian affairs; Western Hemisphere affairs; intelligence and research; political-military affairs; conflict and stabilization operations; democracy, human rights and labor; international narcotics and law enforcement; population, refugees and migration; energy resources; oceans and international, environmental and scientific affairs. The men and women who hold these jobs often wind up managing U.S. foreign policy in a day-to-day way.

The administration has also not nominated ambassadors to many major countries, from close allies like Australia to strategically important regional powers like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The most striking on the list, though, might be South Korea.

In the absence of a permanent ambassador, the top U.S. representative in Seoul right now is Marc Knapper, a veteran Foreign Service officer. “He’s traveled to [North Korea] twice, speaks Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese, and has worked on Chinese and Mongolian Affairs at the State Department,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. “He’s served at the embassy in Seoul since 2015 and before that had done two previous tours in [South Korea], so I’m confident our diplomatic engagement in Korea is in good, solid hands.”

Nauert added that there are highly qualified people on the job across the department. “We have a deep bench of experienced career professionals serving in key positions that are highly capable and able to help the Secretary lead the Department and advance U.S. interests worldwide,” she wrote in an email. “The Department is working closely with the White House to identify qualified candidates for our vacant senior leadership positions.”

-- Trump has said he is intentionally leaving some of these positions open. During a November interview on Fox News, conservative host Laura Ingraham expressed concern to the president about the unfilled positions: “Are you worried that the State Department doesn’t have enough Donald Trump nominees in there to push your vision through?”

“We don’t need all the people they want,” Trump replied. “I’m a businessman, and I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with there. Let me tell you, the one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.

He added that he’s saving taxpayers money by not filling open jobs.

-- But there are a variety of additional explanations:

Trump did not think he was going to win, and he did not take transition planning seriously before the election. The historic level of first-year staff churn at the White House has slowed down the pipeline for approvals. A lot of highly qualified people with sterling credentials don’t want to work for Trump. Some who would be willing to go into the administration cannot get through the vetting process because they signed anti-Trump letters during the 2016 campaign.

“I think this administration isn’t so much arrogant as uninformed,” said Paul Light, a professor of public service at NYU and expert on government bureaucracy. “I think they want to grab the levers of power, no matter how much President Trump says he thinks there are too many people. I just don’t think they understood the mechanics of all of this. … They weren’t very serious about governing, and it shows in this process.”

Progressive activist Jeff Hauser, the executive director of the Revolving Door Project, which scrutinizes executive branch appointments, believes something more sinister is going on. He worries that the Trump team is trying to minimize accountability to Congress. He’s especially concerned about the Internal Revenue Service, where a commissioner has not been named. The acting leader is an assistant secretary of the Treasury, who reports to Steven Mnuchin. Hauser said that this makes it harder for the IRS to function in its intended way, as an independent agency. He also fears that no director for the Census will be named, but that someone political who lacks required technical proficiency could be placed into a deputy slot that doesn’t require Senate confirmation.

“Not all of this is part of a master plan,” Hauser said. “Some of this is due to incompetence. Some of it is that there are positions of government they just don’t value, so they’d like to see them erode. … But there are other parts of it that are more problematic, where I think there’s more intentionality.

-- A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

-- To be sure, the Senate is moving slower to confirm the people that Trump has named than it did for his predecessors. Eighty-five of the president’s nominees have now been waiting more than 100 days to be confirmed. The average time it's taken to confirm those who have made it through is 72 days.

“The later you get into an administration, the more these become bargaining chips and the less there’s an expectation that the Senate is going to move with dispatch,” said Stier, who runs the Partnership for Public Service. “It’s also the case that the Senate gets busy with other things.”

Listen to James's quick summary of today's Big Idea and the headlines you need to know to start your day:
Subscribe to The Daily 202’s Big Idea on
Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple Podcasts and other podcast players.
 
Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning briefing for decision-makers.
Sign up to receive the newsletter.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The Trump administration is taking steps to remove the Canada lynx from the endangered species list, bucking a 2016 assessment that concluded the animal will be extinct in much of its natural habitat by the end of the century without federal protection. (Darryl Fears)
  2. The Air Force deployed three B-2 stealth bombers to Guam this week. The Pentagon said the deployment has been planned, but it comes at a particularly sensitive time on the Korean Peninsula as leaders from Pyongyang and Seoul met to conduct rare talks ahead of the Winter Olympics. (Dan Lamothe)
  3. Trump lauded the recent sale of U.S. “F-52” fighters to Norway during a news conference. As it turns out, those planes don't exist. They are the fictional jets used in the “Call of Duty” computer game. (Alex Horton)
  4. Trump canceled his planned trip to London next month amid fears of massive protests. Trump was slated to open the new embassy there, but U.S. officials indicated Rex Tillerson would now fill in for the president. (The Guardian) In a tweet last night, Trump said he wouldn't open the embassy because the Obama administration “sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for “peanuts,” only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!”
  5. Trump will undergo his physical today at Walter Reed. The White House can choose what to disclose about Trump’s health, but the physical could at the very least provide concrete numbers for the president’s height and weight, on which there have been conflicting reports. (Jenna Johnson and Lenny Bernstein)
  6. Some California residents, still recovering from last month’s wildfires, cited “evacuation fatigue” for why they ignored warnings about the recent mudslides. Authorities are still searching for eight missing people in the mudslides' wake, with another 35 people reported missing by relatives and friends. (Tony Biasotti, Max Ufberg and Scott Wilson)
  7. Facebook is revamping its news feed. The social media giant said it wants to maximize “meaningful interaction” by prioritizing content posted by a user’s family and friends. (New York Times)
  8. In his Netflix interview with David Letterman, Barack Obama bemoaned “the degree to which we don’t share a common baseline of facts.” “What the Russians exploited, [was] already here,” Obama said. “We are operating in completely different information universes. If you watch Fox News you are living on a different planet than you are if you listen to NPR.” (Hank Stuever)
  9. Walmart announced it would raise starting wages from $9 to $11 the same day it closed 63 Sam’s Club stores, affecting thousands of workers. Walmart credited the passage of the GOP tax plan for the increased wages, but some economists speculated the move had more to do with the difficulty of retaining retail workers as the national unemployment rate reaches a 17-year low. (Abha Bhattarai and Todd C. Frankel)
  10. Ecuador granted citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a bid to resolve a standoff at its London embassy, where Assange has sought refuge for the past five years. But its request was rejected by Britain’s Foreign Office, thus further extending Assange's confinement. (William Branigin and Simeon Tegel)
  11. A new cleaning robot assisted by Artificial Intelligence has wowed onlookers at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The child-sized bot also grabs drinks, memorizes objects and uses facial recognition to differentiate between family members and objects — allowing it to locate lost items and ensure, for example, a child’s toy picked up off the floor doesn’t end up in an adult’s closet. (Peter Holley)
  12. An Oklahoma woman was found guilty of first-degree murder after she beat and shoved a crucifix down the throat of her daughter, whom she believed was possessed. (Marwa Eltagouri)

TRUMP'S “SHITHOLE” SLUR SCRAMBLES IMMIGRATION DEBATE:

-- Trump attacked protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries during a meeting yesterday, referring to them as “shithole” countries before suggesting the United States instead bring in more people “from countries like Norway.” (Josh Dawsey)

The remarks came during a midday meeting with lawmakers, who were encouraging the president to restore temporary protected status for immigrants from those countries. Trump became frustrated and asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

“[Trump] also suggested he would be open to more immigrants from Asian countries because he felt they help the United States economically,” adds Josh, who first reported the explosive comments. “In addition, the president singled out Haiti, telling lawmakers that immigrants from that country must be left out of any deal. . . . 'Why do we need more Haitians?' Trump said. 'Take them out.'”

-- Democrats are disgusted. “This is like throwing gasoline to the fire,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. “It’s not consistent with what the behavior of a president should be.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) described the comments as “the most odious and insidious racism masquerading poorly as immigration policy.” “We now know that we have in the White House someone who could lead the Ku Klux Klan in the United States of America, somebody who could be the leader of the neo-Nazi, and publish just his words,” pro-immigration lawmaker Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said on MSNBC.

-- Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), the only Haitian-American member of Congress, called Trump’s comments “unkind, divisive, [and] elitist” and demanded an apology. “This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation,” Love said

-- The U.N. human rights office condemned the remark as “racist.” “These are shocking and shameful comments from the president of the United States. There is no other word one can use but ‘racist,’” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said. “You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes,’ whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.” (Reuters)

-- The president's core base of supporters reacted positively: “He’s trying to win me back,” conservative commentator Ann Coulter wrote on Twitter.

-- The political impact: Trump's comments have already roiled the debate over “dreamers” and left any bipartisan solution more elusive. Ed O'Keefe, Erica Werner and Josh Dawsey report: “The day began much differently, with rumors circulating on Capitol Hill that senators from both parties were close to an immigration deal. We ‘have an agreement in principle. We’re shopping it to our colleagues,’ [Sen. Jeff Flake told reporters]. But the tentative plan from just six senators in a closely divided body of 100 immediately sparked fresh tensions over how Republicans should oversee the emotionally charged immigration debate. White House officials and top GOP Senate leaders insisted that no deal had been reached. [And] some lawmakers bridled at the notion that a small group of their colleagues, especially a group that does not include any immigration hard-liners, could come up with a deal and impose it on everyone else. . . . Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark), an immigration hard-liner . . . called the bipartisan plan 'unacceptable' because of how it deals with family-based migration policy and the diversity lottery. He also criticized the group’s border security proposal, saying it 'doesn’t give near enough resources to meet the president’s demands.'”

-- Trump criticized the DACA deal in tweets this morning:

He also denied having used certain “tough” language:

-- The “shithole” comment lends credence to a recent New York Times report, which quoted Trump saying that Haitians “all have AIDS” during a June meeting. Aaron Blake reports: “Trump added . . . that immigrants from Nigeria, once they saw the United States, would never ‘go back to their huts,’ according to the Times. … The White House strenuously denied it, and the fact that the story landed on Dec. 23 helped it escape scandal proportions. Trump won’t be so fortunate with his latest comments on Haiti.” (Read a full list of Trump’s controversial remarks about nonwhite immigrants here.)

-- The comments are another data point to bolster the argument in Tuesday's Big Idea: “Trump systematically alienates the Latino diaspora.”

-- John Kasich and Jeb Bush Jr., the son of the former GOP presidential candidate, co-wrote a New York Times op-ed recommending continued protections for Salvadorans and a solution for dreamers: “It is wrong to potentially break up so many families that have for so long made the United States their home — legally and at our invitation. When prioritizing the immigration problems we face, the case of 200,000 Salvadorans who accepted our invitation to live and work here legally would not even make a top-10 list. … [Dreamers] are largely models of the assimilation we seek for all immigrants. Congress can and should move quickly to send President Trump legislation providing a common-sense resolution to their situation so that they can continue to thrive here as part of the American dream.”

TRUMP CAUSES FISA FRACAS:

-- The House voted to reauthorize Section 702 of FISA, decisively supporting the key NSA surveillance program despite a set of confusing and contradictory tweets sent by the president. Karoun Demirjian and Josh Dawsey report: “The 256-to-164 vote sets up the legislation for consideration in the Senate, where leaders have said they think they can pass it before the program’s statutory authorization expires on Jan. 19. But the fate of the program appeared to be in jeopardy Thursday morning, after the president tweeted his doubts about it … after seeing a segment about it on Fox News Channel.” In a tweet, the president quoted a Fox headline from the segment verbatim and suggested the FISA law was used by the Obama administration to “so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign.”

-- Trump’s uninformed tweet — suggesting he was no longer in favor of a bill his own White House was championing — set off a frantic, 101-minute scramble across Washington. Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey report: “[Paul Ryan] spent 30 minutes on the phone with the president explaining the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance, as many fellow Republicans reacted in disbelief and befuddlement. [John Kelly] also directly intervened with Trump, reiterating the program’s importance before traveling to the Capitol, where he parried questions from confused lawmakers. A presidential correction came 101 minutes after the initial tweet. The second missive — an explanation perhaps as much for Trump himself as for anybody else — stated that ‘today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land.’ ‘We need it!’ Trump concluded in his second Twitter message. ‘Get smart!’ The confusion — less than two hours in all … was a fresh reminder of how Trump’s haphazard impulses can undermine his own administration and upend the daily workings of the federal government.”

Trump’s initial criticism of the surveillance program also “freaked out” House Republican leaders: “In Thursday morning’s meeting of House Republicans, lawmakers reacted with palpable consternation to Trump’s initial tweet[.] The anxiety continued until House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) stood up and handed his cellphone to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who read aloud the president’s second tweet voicing support for the bill.”

TRUMP’S WALL STREET JOURNAL INTERVIEW:

-- Trump sat down for an interview with the Journal — during which he addressed North Korea, Steve Bannon and the Russia investigation. Here is the full transcript of the interview.

-- Trump signaled openness to diplomacy with North Korea. The Journal’s Michael C. Bender, Louise Radnofsky, Peter Nicholas and Rebecca Ballhaus report: “‘I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un,’ Mr. Trump[.] … ‘I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised.’ Asked if he has spoken with Mr. Kim, Mr. Trump said: ‘I don’t want to comment on it. I’m not saying I have or haven’t. I just don’t want to comment.’”

-- On Bannon, Trump said he felt “betrayed” by his former chief strategist's comments to Michael Wolff, author of “Fire and Fury,” but didn't rule out the possibility of a reconciliation with him. “Steve’s greatest asset is that he was able to convince a corrupt media that he was responsible for my win,” the president said. When asked if his split with Bannon was permanent, Trump replied, “We’ll see what happens.” (The Journal’s Peter Nicholas)

-- Trump also accused FBI agent Peter Strzok, a former investigator on Robert Mueller's team removed after anti-Trump text messages were revealed, of “treason.” The president also said he showed “great insight” by firing James Comey. “A man is tweeting to his lover that if [Hillary Clinton] loses, we’ll essentially do the insurance policy. We’ll go to phase two and we’ll get this guy out of office,” Trump interpreted of a text message Strzok sent. “This is the FBI we’re talking about — that is treason. That is a treasonous act. What he tweeted to his lover is a treasonous act.” He added on the subject of Comey, “[E]verybody wanted Comey fired.” (The Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus)

TRUMP’S AGENDA:

-- Six Republican senators warned Trump last week that withdrawing from NAFTA would endanger stock prices that have soared since his election, a message they thought would resonate better than an economic argument against protectionism. David J. Lynch and Damian Paletta report: “[NAFTA] talks, which will resume later this month in Montreal, have been stalled over U.S. demands for significant concessions from Mexico and Canada. The impasse has prompted treaty proponents to search with growing urgency for any argument that might sway the president, leading to the new emphasis on finance. On Wednesday, pro-NAFTA forces looked prescient when an errant wire service report that Canada thought a U.S. pullout was imminent erased more than $2 billion from General Motors’ value in less than 90 minutes. A second executive … said treaty supporters are [also] arguing that pulling out of NAFTA would neutralize the economic gains that the administration anticipates from the recent $1.5 trillion tax cut.”

During his Wall Street Journal interview yesterday, Trump said of NAFTA negotiations, “We’ve made a lot of headway. We’re moving along nicely.” But he added, “If we don’t make the right deal, I will terminate Nafta, OK.” Trump even suggested NAFTA may provide a back-door means of making Mexico pay for a border wall. “We make a good deal on Nafta, and, say, I’m going to take a small percentage of that money and it’s going toward the wall. Guess what? Mexico’s paying,” Trump said.

-- Today is Trump’s deadline to make a decision on sanctions against Iran, and he’s expected to once again waive them, staying the course on the nuclear deal. Anne Gearan and Carol Morello report: “The administration said Thursday that it plans additional sanctions that are separate from those covered under the international nuclear deal with Iran, an indication that Trump is unlikely to break it now, despite his opposition. Trump’s top national security advisers met with him Thursday at the White House. Announcement of the decision was expected Friday morning. … ‘I am expecting new sanctions on Iran,’ Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Thursday. ‘We continue to look at them, we’ve rolled them out, and you can expect there will be more sanctions coming.’”

-- The IRS’s rushed attempt to implement new guidelines for the GOP tax bill will require million of Americans to use an online calculator to ensure the accuracy of their paychecks. Damian Paletta reports: “The guidelines are necessary for businesses to calculate how much to withhold in taxes from employees’ paychecks beginning as soon as next month. … In rushing the process, the Treasury Department is asking companies to rely on outdated forms to help determine how much to withhold. … If they find their paychecks are inaccurate, it will be incumbent on the employees to tell their employers to make corrections.

-- An early draft of Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review suggests he wants to add more nukes to the United States’ arsenal. HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg reports: “[The report calls] for the development of new, so-called low-yield nuclear weapons — warheads with a lower explosive force. The logic of those pushing for the development of smaller nukes is that our current nuclear weapons are too big and too deadly to ever use; we are effectively self-deterred, and the world knows it. To make sure other countries believe that we’d actually use nuclear force, the thinking goes, we need more low-yield nukes.” Read the full report here.

-- The State Department attempted to distance itself from anti-Muslim remarks made by Pete Hoekstra, Trump’s new ambassador to the Netherlands, in 2015. Eli Rosenberg reports: “During a news conference at the State Department’s headquarters in Washington, Undersecretary Steve Goldstein told reporters that [Hoekstra] had ‘made comments that should not have been made’ when asked about Hoekstra's statements about Muslim no-go zones and people being burned alive because of the Islamic movement. … Still, Goldstein refused to label Hoekstra’s comments inaccurate despite being pressed by reporters at the briefing.

-- A fourth pregnant immigrant teen in U.S. custody has requested permission to receive an abortion. Ann E. Marimow reports: “The latest court filing says the fourth teen, identified only as Jane Moe, requested an abortion about two weeks ago but has not been allowed to end her pregnancy and instead was required to visit an antiabortion crisis pregnancy center. … The teen’s attorneys say she is being asked to disclose her pregnancy to her parents and ‘fears retaliation because she has requested an abortion, and she does not want her family or others to know.’”

MIDTERMS:

-- The GOP suffered another big recruiting setback: Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) announced he won't run for Senate — bucking both party leaders and Trump, who extensively courted him and went so far as to call his wife to make the pitch. Sean Sullivan and Josh Dawsey report: “Cramer’s decision … followed other recruiting letdowns for Trump and [Mitch McConnell] in deeply conservative states where Republicans are hoping to unseat Democratic senators and pad their 51-49 majority. At the beginning of 2017 … Republicans were optimistic about increasing their Senate majority. … But attracting top candidates in key Senate races has been an ongoing struggle for a party facing strong political head winds. . . . In Montana, Wisconsin, Michigan and now North Dakota … top Republicans have passed on the Senate contest to pursue other opportunities.

-- Trump will travel next week to southwestern Pennsylvania, where Republicans fear they could suffer another embarrassing special election defeat. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “After a humiliating loss in the Alabama Senate race last month, the administration is drawing up ambitious plans that will kick off next Thursday when Trump travels to the conservative district to appear with Republican candidate Rick Saccone. Vice President Mike Pence and an assortment of Cabinet officials are also expected to make trips; Pence may go twice ahead of the March 13 special election[.] … [Trump’s] involvement underscores the high stakes confronting the administration as it approaches a midterm election in which the party’s hold on the House majority is in grave danger. A loss in the working class Pennsylvania district, which the president won by 20 percentage points, would show that few GOP seats are safe.”

-- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who announced this week he would not seek reelection, is considering running in his neighboring district. The Hill’s Scott Wong and Katie Bo Williams report: “[Issa] has been discussing with colleagues the possibility of running in a neighboring San Diego district if embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) resigns, multiple sources told The Hill. Some of these discussions happened as recently as Wednesday, the day Issa announced he would not be running for reelection in his coastal Southern California district after 17 years in the House. … Hunter, who has been dogged by federal and congressional ethics investigations, said he would not put it past Issa to seek his seat if something bad were to happen to him. … Hunter’s seat, east of Issa’s, is more conservative and would be easier for Republicans to hang on to.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Steve Bannon has hired prominent D.C.-area attorney William Burck to represent him as he prepares to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in its ongoing Russia investigation. Rosalind S. Helderman reports: “Bannon had previously insisted that he did not need a lawyer because he had not been drawn into the multiple [Russia probes], But in recent weeks, the House intelligence panel made a request that Bannon testify before the committee. Burck … is also representing other key members of Trump’s campaign and White House staff, including [Reince Priebus and Donald McGahn]. The person familiar with the arrangement said Burck’s representation is limited to congressional testimony and does not include preparing Bannon to speak to [Robert Mueller]. It also covers only Bannon’s role on Trump’s campaign, as opposed to events that occurred during the presidential transition or [during Bannon’s White House tenure].” 

-- Close Trump advisers and allies are urging him not to sit for an interview with Mueller — with some expressing skepticism that it made sense in any circumstance for the president to voluntarily submit to a sit-down. CNN’s Kara Scannell, Pamela Brown, Manu Raju, Gloria Borger and Dana Bash report: “Some key allies on Capitol Hill also are urging Trump to avoid potential political and legal jeopardy and not answer questions from Mueller. They are part of a group of supporters ranging from lawyers on the Trump team and in the White House orbit to friends who say it would be unwise for the President to talk. Others say Trump should find a way to cooperate that limits his potential legal exposure. … The lawyers' decision will be influenced by what topics Mueller wants to question Trump about and whether the information can be obtained elsewhere, sources familiar with their thinking say.”

-- The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee blamed Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Paul Ryan for impeding the panel’s Russia probe. Karoun Demirjian reports: “[Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.)] complained that Republicans were unwilling to press those members of the Trump team who participated in a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower for a complete record of their communications over email, telephone, and encrypted applications. … According to two people with knowledge of the materials, the phone records Trump Jr. turned over to the panel were heavily redacted.”

MEN BEHAVING BADLY:

-- A St. Louis prosecutor plans to investigate Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) over allegations that he threatened to blackmail a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair. Fred Barbash reports: “‘The serious allegations against Greitens ‘are very troubling,’ said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner in a statement. ‘After further consideration, I have decided to launch a formal investigation into the alleged actions of Governor Greitens.’ … [Greitens’s] lawyer, James F. Bennett, responded to the prosecutor’s statement Thursday, saying the ‘governor is very confident he will be cleared in any investigation.’” The lawyer issued an earlier statement denying that his client made any threats of blackmail.

-- “A Wall St. Executive’s Downfall Seemed Sudden. It Was Years in the Making,” by the New York Times’s Kate Kelly and Andrew Ross Sorkin: “The Morgan Stanley officials briefed on the process say that amid a national outcry over sexual harassment, the bank had little choice but to fire [Harold Ford Jr.] after it learned of the allegation. Even though the harassment charge was never corroborated, they said, the bank found evidence that Mr. Ford had misled executives about some of his behavior, which itself constituted cause to remove him. . . . Mr. Ford and his lawyer say there’s a different explanation: that Morgan Stanley used the journalist’s allegations as a pretext to fire him simply because he was disliked internally.”

-- Five women have accused James Franco of inappropriate or “sexually exploitative” behavior — four of whom were students of the 39-year-old actor, and another who said she considered him a mentor. The LA Times’s Daniel Miller and Amy Kaufman report: “In some cases, [the women] said they believed Franco could offer them career advancement, and acquiesced to his wishes even when they were uncomfortable. Before opening Studio 4, Franco taught at Playhouse West in North Hollywood — a school where he’d received training as an actor. Two of his former students there said he put female students in uncomfortable situations beyond the normal parameters of acting class … and described what they considered to be an unprofessional and hostile shoot at a strip club. Midway through filming, Dusome said Franco approached the actresses — who wore masks and lingerie — and asked, ‘So, who wants to take your shirt off?’ When no actresses volunteered, Franco stormed off[.]”

-- Some women lawmakers plan to bring activists involved in the sexual harassment debate as their guests to the State of the Union. Elise Viebeck reports: “Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) plans to bring as her guest Danielle McGuire, a historian and author who has written about Recy Taylor, a black woman in Abbeville, Ala., who was raped by six white men in 1944. … Women of the Congressional Black Caucus plan to wear red pins as a tribute to Taylor, according to a Lawrence spokeswoman. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), one of the House’s most vocal supporters of improving the reporting and mediation process for workplace complaints, invited civil rights activist Tarana Burke. Burke is known for launching the ‘me too’ movement against sexual harassment and assault.”

AN MLK SPEECH TO REMEMBER:

-- Programming note: In observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday, The Daily 202 will not publish on Monday.

-- Because of the Alabama special Senate election, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading up on the Birmingham church bombing in recent months. As a U.S. attorney in the 1990s, Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) successfully prosecuted two members of the Ku Klux Klan for their role in the notorious 1963 blast that killed four black girls.

-- Dr. King delivered a eulogy at their funeral. It’s not one of his most famous speeches, but it ought to be. Here’s an excerpt that I’ve found particularly inspiring and resonant:

“These children — unoffending, innocent, and beautiful — were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream …

“And so, my friends, they did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city. The holy Scripture says, ‘A little child shall lead them.’ … And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow, we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump once again went after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for releasing the Fusion GPS transcript:

(The reference to a cold seemed to come from an answer Feinstein gave to NBC News's Marianna Sotomayor.)

Trump also slammed Democrats as weak on border security:

From Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.):

And Trump offered a reason for calling off his London trip:

(In fact, the embassy's move was first reported during the final months of George W. Bush's presidency.)

Trump's incendiary comments about immigration caused a social media firestorm. From a former CIA director:

From the former president of Mexico:

The government of Botswana sought official clarification on whether Trump regarded the country as a “shithole”:

From a GOP strategist and John Kasich's former presidential adviser: 

From the House Democratic Caucus's vice chair:

From a House Democrat:

From a House Republican representing southern Florida:

From Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.):

Meanwhile, over at Haiti's embassy today:

From a HuffPost reporter:

From the GOP pollster Frank Luntz:

From the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol:

From conservative pundit Erick Erickson:

From author Stephen King:

A correspondent for Slate expressed vindication for ESPN's Jemele Hill:

From activist and restaurateur Jose Antonio Vargas:

From a writer for the New Yorker:

A Post reporter notes that Trump's comment is at odds with White House talking points:

From CNN's senior White House correspondent:

The question of how to cover Trump's choice of language baffled some newsrooms:

From an alerts editor at The Post:

From a Post opinions editor:

But The Post decision was clear:

From Trump's hometown paper:

The cover of Time:

One of The Post's editors summarized the day's news:

On a feel-good note, a New York Times reporter and The Post shared this moment over Twitter:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Vanity Fair, “‘A Safe Space For Trump’: Inside The Feedback Loop Between The President And Fox News,” by Gabriel Sherman: “In the post-Roger Ailes era, the network doesn’t have a programming Svengali to develop new story lines. ‘There’s absolutely no direction,’ one Fox host told me. Without Ailes’s daily talking points to guide them, producers are freer than ever before to program their shows, and the surest path to ratings success is airing stories that appeal to Trump’s most fervent supporters. Fox may be Trump’s safe space, but Trump is Fox’s safe space, too. It’s a circular feedback loop.”

-- Time, “The Unpresident: Why Donald Trump Will Never Change,” by Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs: “With Donald Trump, the nation is seeing something new. Although he flirted with running as an independent decades ago, and as a Republican in 2012, he was never driven by a vision, an agenda or a set of goals. He gave every indication of wanting to win the presidency but not be the President. That impression, and so much more, is brought to life in Michael Wolff’s explosive and controversial new book[.]”

-- Politico Magazine, “Heartland Democrats to Washington: You’re Killing Us,” by Michael Kruse: “The facts are harsh[.] In [2009] Democrats held 57 percent of the heartland’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now: 39 percent. In 2008, Barack Obama won seven of the eight heartland states. In 2012, he won six. In 2016? Trump won six. There are 737 counties in the Midwest — Trump won all but 63 of them. … From the Appalachian regions of Ohio to the Iron Range of Minnesota and the northern reaches of Michigan and Wisconsin, across Iowa and Missouri and through the southern swaths of Indiana and Illinois — areas in which Bill Clinton triumphed and Hillary Clinton tanked — the quotes from the 72 rural Democrats [Robin] Johnson interviewed read like a pent-up primal scream. ‘If we don’t get this right in the next two cycles,’ he told me, ‘we’re done’ — rendered mostly powerless in Congress and in heartland state houses. He called the report ‘a cold reality check.’”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“The Story Behind TIME's President Trump 'Year One' Cover,” from Time: “The flames on the cover reference [Michael] Wolff’s book as well as the source of its title: Trump’s statement that North Korea would be ‘met with fire and fury like the world has never seen’ if it continued to threaten the United States. ‘We used to live where the United States was a pretty steady country, and now you wake up every day and try to figure out where’s the next fire, where do we have to go, what do we have to try to contain,’ Rodriguez says. ‘It’s sort of this President that you’re always trying to contain, like a wildfire that’s moving from one place to the other at all times.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Fiat Chrysler will move Ram production to Michigan from Mexico,” from CNN: “Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is feeling good about tax reform. So good that it says it's moving some of its truck production from Mexico to Michigan. The automaker announced Thursday that it will spend more than $1 billion to revamp its Warren Truck Assembly Plant, which will start making the Ram heavy-duty truck in 2020. The truck is currently made in Saltillo, Mexico. Fiat Chrysler said it will add 2,500 jobs in Michigan to support the move. The company also said it's giving one-time $2,000 bonuses to 60,000 U.S. workers.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will sign a proclamation for MLK Day and undergo his annual physical at Walter Reed before departing D.C. for Palm Beach.

Pence has a phone call with Poland’s prime minister.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said immigration talks were being led by “five white guys,” adding, “Are they going to open a hamburger stand next or what?” (Pelosi’s No. 2, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who is one of those five white guys, called the comment “offensive.”) (Politico)

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- D.C.’s unseasonably high temperatures continue today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “We could have scattered showers around any time, but the highest chances for rain (and a bit of fog perhaps) are during the morning hours. High temperatures may take advantage of any afternoon lulls in precipitation, and moderate southerly winds around 10 mph, to attain mid- to upper 60s.”

-- The Capitals lost to the Hurricanes 3-1. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) maintains a 71 percent approval rating, which could make it difficult for any Democrat to unseat him in this year’s gubernatorial race. Josh Hicks and Scott Clement report: “Hogan has double-digit leads in the [Gonzales Media and Research Services] poll in direct matchups with the top three Democratic candidates for governor: Prince George’s County executive Rushern L. Baker III, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and former NAACP president Ben Jealous. … In a theoretical matchup against Baker, 47 percent of respondents said they would vote for Hogan, compared with 37 percent for Baker and 16 percent who were undecided. The governor led Kamenetz 48 percent to 34 percent, with 18 percent undecided. Hogan led Jealous 49 percent to 36 percent, with 15 percent undecided.”

-- Thirty-eight women now sit in Virginia’s House of Delegates, hitting a record high. Fenit Nirappil report: “Among them are the first Latinas, the first transgender woman, the first lesbian and the first Asian American women to be elected to the chamber. Republicans seated their youngest-ever woman, 33-year-old Emily Brewer. … Advocates are hoping this new crop of women in Richmond can change the discussion on an array of issues, including paid family leave, abortion rights and taxes on tampons.”

-- A Metro board passed the proposal to refund rush-hour commuters who experience delays of 15 minutes or more. Faiz Siddiqui and Martine Powers report: “[Metro officials] say the program, which could be launched as early as Jan. 26, is an expression of their confidence in the reliability of the system and will provide a measure of accountability for management.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Late-night hosts had a field day with Trump’s “shithole” comment:

CNN’s Don Lemon began his show by declaring, “The president of the United States is racist”:

Trump expressed optimism about his physical exam to be conducted today:

A female lawmaker from Virginia addressed the House of Delegates' historic number of women legislators:

And workers in Texas found themselves trapped in a dramatic sandstorm: