With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Political fundamentals are shaping the wall fight in ways that aren’t being sufficiently reflected in coverage of the 20-day-old shutdown.

President Trump ran on a wall in 2016, and he lost the popular vote.

He tried to make the 2018 midterms a referendum on the wall, seizing on a caravan of migrants as the centerpiece of his closing argument and deploying troops to the southern border. Yet Republicans suffered their biggest losses in the House since Watergate, despite a booming economy with historically low unemployment.

The wall has never been a popular idea, a fact known to most Republicans in Congress. A litany of public and private polling shows that over 50 percent of Americans oppose building a wall. Support is in the high 30s to low 40s. Public support for shutting down the government to force construction of a wall is lower.

Trump himself has never been a strong president in conventional terms. In Gallup’s tracking poll, Trump’s approval rating has never risen above 45 percent. He’s never been more popular as president than the day he took office.

That’s as much why Democrats aren’t defecting, or more so, than the left’s growing moral opposition to the very concept of walls. Don’t forget that Trump couldn’t get his wall money even when the GOP had unified control of government during the past two years — when 10 Senate Democrats were up for reelection in states he had carried.

Trump has also been checked by the courts on immigration as much as any other issue, including by GOP-appointed judges, and his threat to claim emergency powers to build the wall would face certain legal challenges.

Come Saturday, this partial government shutdown is poised to become the longest in U.S. history. Regardless of how or when it ends, the donnybrook will have illustrated Trump’s weaknesses. As a result, the public image of the president will probably fall more in line with these underlying political realities.

-- Trump appears more concerned about losing his base than most people understand. He’s not acting like someone who thinks he could get away with shooting a person on Fifth Avenue and have his core supporters stick with him. He admitted as much during a moment of candor with reporters at the White House yesterday: “Right now, if I did something that was foolish, like gave up on border security, the first ones that would hit me are my senators. They'd be angry at me,” he said. “The second ones would be the House. And the third ones would be, frankly, my base and a lot of Republicans out there.”

He rejected a deal that his own aides and GOP leaders had negotiated after conservative media personalities got to him — and Ann Coulter threatened not to vote for him again in 2020. He’s bending over backward to show his base that he’s going to the mat for a wall. That’s why Trump is sitting down with Fox News host Sean Hannity later today when he goes to the border in McAllen, Tex.

“I think you can’t cave. That’s what the Democrats don’t understand — it’s all or nothing,” said Trump ally Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a leader of the House Freedom Caucus. “The Democrats think that we’re about ready to fold. I think Republicans think that Democrats are ready to fold, and neither of those two things are accurate by any stretch of the imagination.”

-- Trump has not been the great dealmaker as president that he promised he would be as a candidate. Yes, he’s made millions off writing “The Art of the Deal.” But Ronald Reagan at Reykjavik he is not.

The president walked out of a White House meeting with Democratic leaders yesterday, calling it “a total waste of time,” after Nancy Pelosi said she’s not going to cave on the wall. “I said bye-bye,” the president tweeted, “nothing else works!” Democrats said Trump slammed his hand on the table in anger as he exited the Situation Room. Vice President Pence denied this and said he passed out candy bars to the Democrats.

-- Trump has said it’s better to be feared than loved, but Democratic leaders simply aren’t scared of him. Pelosi called him “petulant” after the meeting and then took a dig at Trump’s false narrative that he’s a self-made man. Noting that federal workers are about to miss a paycheck, the House speaker said: “He thinks maybe they could just ask their father for more money. But they can’t.”

“The president threw another temper tantrum,” added Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s now undeniable that Trump blundered last January and February by turning down Democratic offers that would have given him his wall in exchange for protecting the “dreamers.” Trump caved to the hard-liners in his orbit, specifically Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and nativist policy adviser Stephen Miller, and demanded massive reductions in the number of legal immigrants. It was a poison pill. But elections have consequences, and Democrats now control the House. Of course, they won’t offer the terms they were willing to when they were in the minority. Why would they?

“Trump’s approach is a hallmark of a president who eschews strategic planning and preparation in favor of day-to-day tactical maneuvering and trusting his gut. But as he digs in against an emboldened Democratic opposition, Trump has found that his go-to arsenal of bluster, falsehoods, threats and theatrics has laid bare his shortcomings as a negotiator — preventing him from finding a way out of what may be the biggest political crisis of his presidency,” David Nakamura and Seung Min Kim explain in today’s paper.

White House allies professed confusion over the president’s tactics,” they report. “For Republicans who have tried to stick with the mercurial president, the shifting goal posts have been frustrating. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will not allow a vote on any bill to reopen the government unless he receives assurances from the White House that Trump supports it. ‘It’s always difficult,’ said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), when the person you’re negotiating with is someone who changes their mind.’”

-- As the difficulty of divided government sinks in, the first president in U.S. history with no prior governing or military experience has changed his tune. On Dec. 11, Trump said he would be proud to shut down the government: “If we don't get what we want, one way or the other ... I will shut down the government,” he told Schumer and Pelosi in the Oval Office. “So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it.”

Yesterday, speaking again in the Oval Office, he insisted: “This is not a fight I wanted.”

-- Back in 2013, right after the GOP forced a shutdown in a failed effort to defund Obamacare, Trump criticized Barack Obama for allowing it to happen. The future president defined leadership this way. “Whatever happens, you're responsible,” he tweeted five years ago. “If it doesn't happen, you're responsible.”

-- A general rule of thumb: Whether in sports or marriages, companies or campaigns, the more often you feel compelled to say publicly that your team is unified, the less likely it’s true.

“There was no discussion of anything other than solidarity,” Trump told reporters after privately meeting with GOP senators over lunch at the Capitol.

“But inside the meeting with senators Wednesday, there was not unanimity on Trump’s approach,” Erica Werner, Sean Sullivan, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim report. “Moderate Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) pleaded with Trump to reopen the government, according to lawmakers present.”

On the other side of the Capitol, eight House Republicans broke ranks and voted with every Democrat to advance a bill that would reopen the Treasury Department and ensure that the Internal Revenue Service remains funded through tax season.

-- Trump also maintained that he has the “absolute right” to declare an emergency and construct the wall without congressional authorization. Asked what his threshold will be for usurping legislative authority, he answered: “My threshold will be if I can’t make a deal with people that are unreasonable.”

Several conservatives have bristled publicly at this posture. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned yesterday, for example, that Trump declaring a national emergency would create a dangerous precedent. “We have to be careful about endorsing broad uses of executive power,” Rubio said on CNBC. “If today the national emergency is border security, tomorrow the national emergency might be climate change.”

-- To be sure, many House Democrats who just got elected in districts Trump carried in 2016 are feeling some heat as the shutdown drags on. “The freshmen arranged an impromptu 90-minute meeting over the weekend at a retreat in Virginia because several new members were ‘freaking out’ about the ongoing shutdown and the party’s strategy,” Politico’s Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris report. “‘I don’t think that it’s the Democrats in the House’s fault that we are in a shutdown,’ said Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas), who attended the huddle in Williamsburg, Va., and is one of two freshman class presidents. ‘But I do think it’s setting us back in terms of those coalitions we’re trying to build.’”

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), who represents a district Trump won in 2016, said at a closed-door caucus meeting yesterday that Democrats are losing the messaging war in her district and need to be clearer about the border security measures they support. “If I am getting comments and contact from my constituents expressing concern that the Democrats are not prioritizing security, then I think we can do better,” she told her colleagues, per Politico.

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GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick could soon be defrocked after the Vatican finished collecting evidence in his sexual abuse case. Witnesses have testified in the past several weeks to American clergy about the alleged misconduct of McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington. (Michelle Boorstein, Julie Zauzmer and Chico Harlan)

  2. The Archdiocese of Chicago said the Rev. C. John McCloskey was never officially restricted from ministering in the years after he was accused of sexual harassment. McCloskey’s alleged victim, who received a $977,000 settlement from the Catholic organization Opus Dei, said she was assured the priest would not be put in a position where he could potentially harass someone else. (Julie Zauzmer and Michelle Boorstein)

  3. The Supreme Court considered whether it should overturn a precedent decision in a case concerning whether one state could be sued in another state’s courts. The justices’ decision could indicate their future approach to respecting precedents, such as Roe v. Wade. (Robert Barnes)

  4. Opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi was declared the winner of Congo’s presidential election. The announcement, which comes almost two weeks after the election, clears the way for the country’s first democratic transfer of power. (Max Bearak)

  5. Some U.S. officials fear the growing power of Iraq’s Shiite militias could fuel a resurgence of the Islamic State. The militias’ oversight of Sunni areas they helped liberate from the Islamic State has sparked complaints similar to those that helped power the extremist group’s initial rise three years ago. (Tamer El-Ghobashy and Mustafa Salim)

  6. The Justice Department announced charges against a former commanding officer of Guantanamo Bay for allegedly obstructing a probe into a civilian worker’s death. Investigators say U.S. Navy Capt. John Nettleton lied to them about when he last saw Christopher Tur, who drowned in the waters of Guantanamo Bay in 2015. (Devlin Barrett)

  7. Critics have accused drugmakers of using scare tactics to prevent the production of generic drugs, stifling competition. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb expressed concern about “either deliberate or unintentional efforts by branded companies to create confusion” about cheaper versions of their products. (Christopher Rowland)

  8. Teachers in Los Angeles are preparing to strike on Monday. The action comes after nearly two years of unsuccessful negotiations with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the country. (Moriah Balingit)

  9. A new study found bullying rates at Virginia middle schools were higher in school districts where Trump won in 2016. The researchers who conducted the study wrote of their findings, “It is obviously difficult to demonstrate a causal link between statements by a public figure and schoolyard bullying. Nevertheless, there are incidents in which youth made threats and jeering statements that closely matched language used by [Trump].” (Valerie Strauss)

  10. Two North Carolina women were charged with sexually assaulting a transgender woman in a bar bathroom. The case comes nearly three years after North Carolina passed a bill requiring transgender people to use facilities corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate. (Michael Brice-Saddler)

  11. Amazon.com founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, who owns The Post, announced he was getting divorced. The world's richest man said in a statement that he and his wife, MacKenzie, who have been together for 25 years, “see wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends [and] partners in ventures and projects.” (Bethonie Butler and Emily Heil)

2020 WATCH:

-- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is reportedly tentatively planning to announce her 2020 campaign over MLK weekend in Oakland, the city where she was born and began her legal career. From KCBS Radio’s Doug Sovern: “Even though Harris has alluded to a 2020 presidential campaign in interviews to promote her new memoir, aides said before the book rollout began that no formal announcement about her political future is expected before the first wave of the book tour concludes later this month. But several sources with knowledge of her plans said she has in fact decided to run, with the enthusiastic blessing of her husband and two stepchildren. The debate within her camp has been how, and where, to launch her campaign.” A person "close” to Harris denied the report to Politico, saying that no final decision has been made but that it won’t be in Oakland on MLK weekend.

-- Billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer announced he would not run for president. Chelsea Janes reports: “Steyer said he would instead continue with his campaign to impeach [Trump], an effort that began in 2017, and on which he has already spent $10 million on television ads. … The former hedge fund manager said he will be hosting town halls across the country to discuss what he terms the dangers of Trump’s presidency. … Steyer announced that he will invest $16 million going forward in efforts to ‘deepen Americans’ understanding of Trump’s impeachable offenses.’ He said he would focus those efforts on the constituents of the 22 Republican senators up for reelection in 2020.”

-- Jeff Weaver, who ran Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, will take on a diminished role if the Vermont senator runs again. David Weigel reports: “Sources said the decision was made months earlier, long before a group of former campaign staffers asked for a meeting to create a new sexual harassment policy ahead of any 2020 decisions, asking in a letter for Sanders to ‘[hire] diverse leadership to preempt the possibility of replicating the predatory culture for the first campaign.’ Weaver, 53, has worked closely with [Sanders] for much of the senator’s career. He first helped Sanders as the driver for his unsuccessful 1986 bid for governor; in 2016, he helped build a long-shot campaign into a powerhouse that broke small-dollar fundraising records and won 23 primaries or caucuses.”

-- Robert Becker, who oversaw Sanders’s Iowa campaign in 2016, was accused of forcibly kissing a female subordinate during the Democratic National Convention. Politico’s Alex Thompson reports: “Becker, now 50 years old, told the 20-something woman that he had always wanted to have sex with her and made a reference to riding his ‘pole,’ according to the woman and three other people who witnessed what happened or were told about it shortly afterward by people who did. Later in the night, Becker approached the woman and abruptly grabbed her wrists. Then he moved his hands to her head and forcibly kissed her, putting his tongue in her mouth as he held her, the woman and other sources said. The woman did not formally report the incident at the time because the campaign was over.” Sanders’s principal campaign committee said in response to the allegations that “Robert Becker would not be a part of any future campaigns.”

-- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), another potential 2020 candidate, accused fellow Democrats of “religious bigotry” in their questioning of a Trump judicial nominee. Felicia Sonmez reports: “She argued that some lawmakers had gone too far in their questioning of Brian Buescher, whom Trump nominated in October to serve as a district judge. ‘While I oppose the nomination of Brian Buescher to the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus,’ Gabbard said in the op-ed.”

-- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), known for controversial comments on immigration that have been widely criticized as racist, has attracted a 2020 primary challenge. The Sioux City Journal’s Bret Hayworth reports: State Sen. Randy Feenstra, “of Hull, said he is opening a federal campaign committee. A campaign website — feenstraforcongress — went live Wednesday morning. … By 2 p.m., King's campaign responded by saying Feenstra in late December had told Jeff King, the congressman's son and campaign official, that he would not run for the position. … Jeff King said the congressman is ‘an effective and leading congressional ally of the president's.”

-- “Rick Scott blindsides DeSantis on his way out,” by Politico’s Marc Caputo and Matt Dixon: “The contentious handoff of the Florida governor’s office from Scott to fellow Republican Ron DeSantis has cast a shadow over their relationship, raising questions about whether the two prominent swing-state Republicans are on a collision course as a result of their future ambitions for the White House. Tensions between the old governor and the new governor had been simmering under the surface for more than a month, but it burst into public view Tuesday after Scott abruptly left his successor’s inauguration ceremony, leading DeSantis to ad lib the parts of his speech in which he planned to personally thank Scott. … DeSantis loyalists were already miffed that Scott’s political committee decided to throw a ball in Washington to celebrate his installation in the U.S. Senate that overlapped with the traditional inaugural celebration for the governor in Tallahassee. Those slights followed two other perceived insults Friday, when the governor made more than 70 appointments without consulting DeSantis.”

-- Future campaign ad material: Nancy Pelosi held a vote to force House Republicans to go on the record about the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare. Mike DeBonis reports: The House “gave itself the power to intervene legally after a federal judge ruled that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional. Wednesday’s vote was largely symbolic — Democrats voted last week to authorize legal action as part of a broader rules package — but it was the first time that lawmakers were presented with a discrete measure dealing with what was a dominant issue in the Nov. 6 midterm elections. … The measure passed 235 to 192, with all Democrats supporting it and all but three Republicans opposing it.”

THE HUMAN TOLL OF THE SHUTDOWN:

-- The shutdown has sharply reduced the FDA’s food inspections. Laurie McGinley and Joel Achenbach report: “The agency, which oversees 80 percent of the food supply, has suspended all routine inspections of domestic food-processing facilities, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in an interview. He is working on a plan to bring inspectors back as early as next week to inspect facilities considered high-risk because they handle sensitive items such as seafood, soft cheese and vegetables, or have a history of problems.”

-- Customs and Border Protection officers sued the Trump administration over unpaid wages. Deanna Paul reports: “The National Treasury Employees Union became the second federal employees' union to file a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the shutdown. Tuesday’s collective action alleges more than 400,000 federal employees — including tens of thousands of NTEU members — are being forced to work without pay during the partial government closure.”

-- Estimates indicate each week of the shutdown is costing the U.S. economy $1.2 billion. Politico’s Victoria Guida reports: “The roughly 800,000 government employees who are either furloughed or working without pay will be forced to start slashing their consumer spending when paychecks don’t appear this week. Private-sector contractors and other workers tied to the government are already seeing damage from lost business. And a hit to the nation’s financial standing is on the horizon with a warning from Fitch Ratings on Wednesday about downgrading the government’s credit rating if the shutdown persists. … [The shutdown] could also cost the U.S. government more than a billion dollars in lost productivity for 350,000 workers who are forced to stay home.”

-- Farmers who have come to rely on government assistance amid Trump’s trade war are struggling to cope without checks. Annie Gowen, Jeff Stein and Sean Sullivan report: “The Trump administration had promised to help farmers like [John] Boyd, those who suffered as a result of the international trade war after Chinese purchases of soybeans — once 60 percent of the market — plummeted to next to nothing. With farmers on the edge of ruin, the U.S. government offered $12 billion in support since September, checks that had become a lifeline. But with the government shutdown moving into its third week, Boyd was left waiting for his support check to arrive.”

-- The shutdown is also holding up government loans to small businesses. Heather Long, David J. Lynch and Renae Merle report: “The Small Business Administration stopped processing new loans on Dec. 22. [Thousands of people] can’t get their SBA loans approved, meaning they can’t get money they need to start or expand their companies. … Even if the shutdown ends soon, there will be a backlog at the SBA.”

-- A Coast Guard program offered service employees recommendations for how to get through the shutdown, such as holding a garage sale or babysitting. Dan Lamothe reports: “The suggestions were part of a five-page tip sheet published by the Coast Guard Support Program ... It is designated to offer Coast Guard members help with mental-health issues or other concerns about their lives, including financial wellness. ‘Bankruptcy is a last option,’ the document said. … The Coast Guard removed the tip sheet from the support program’s website late Wednesday morning after The Washington Post inquired about it.”

DEBATING THE WALL:

-- A DHS test of a steel slat prototype of the wall showed it could be sawed through. NBC News’s Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley report: “The Trump administration directed the construction of eight steel and concrete prototype walls that were built in Otay Mesa, California, just across the border from Tijuana, Mexico. Trump inspected the prototypes in March 2018. He has now settled on a steel slat, or steel bollard, design for the proposed border barrier additions. Steel bollard fencing has been used under previous administrations. However, testing by DHS in late 2017 showed all eight prototypes, including the steel slats, were vulnerable to breaching, according to an internal February 2018 U.S. Customs and Border Protection report.”

-- Contrary to Trump’s rhetoric in his immigration address, apprehensions at the border are relatively low compared with past points in recent U.S. history. From Brittany Renee Mayes, Aaron Williams and Laris Karklis: “U.S. Border Patrol took just over 400,000 people illegally entering the United States into custody in 2018, down from the second-high of 1.67 million in 2000. The Washington Post Fact Checker Salvador Rizzo reported that most of these declines have come, ‘partly because of technology upgrades; tougher penalties in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; a decline in migration rates from Mexico; and a sharp increase in the number of Border Patrol officers.’”

-- Many lawmakers who represent districts along the border, including some Republicans, are either opposed to a wall or to using emergency powers to build it. Matt Viser reports: “Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, this week said he opposes an emergency declaration to build the wall. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex), whose district includes 820 miles along the border, has repeatedly spoken out and voted against it. Dennis Nixon, a bank executive from Laredo who was a top Trump donor, has published a lengthy rebuttal to Trump’s desire for a wall.”

-- Building the wall could take at least 10 years, even with 10,000 workers. (Todd Frankel does the math.)

-- “They say it's a medieval solution, a wall. It's true,” Trump said. “Because it worked then, and it works even better now.”

-- In an richly reported meditation on the history of walls, Marc Fisher notes that border walls “have a checkered history of maintaining separation between people”: “No matter how high, how long, how strong the wall, people have an uncanny knack for finding their way over, under and around. … Some historians contend that walls have repeatedly proved their worth: They protect communities from perceived threats, bringing the people inside the wall together in security and camaraderie. Yet walls can also undermine community, creating and cementing ‘us vs. them’ antagonisms, letting wall builders avoid resolution of the problems they face.”

-- “Throughout history, autocratic leaders have relied on walls to control their people,” Nina Khrushcheva, professor of international affairs at the New School, writes in an op-ed for NBC. “From the fierce tyrant who first began building China’s Great Wall in roughly 220 BC to Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev (my great-grandfather as it happens) who ordered construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, walls have represented undemocratic forces.”

-- Additional commentary in today’s newspaper:

  • Metro columnist Theresa Vargas: “Trump asked you to imagine being victimized by an immigrant. We should imagine instead, ‘We’re all Roxana.’”
  • Julia Young, a historian at Catholic University of America: “A wall can’t solve America’s addiction to undocumented immigration. For more than 70 years, undocumented immigrants have shaped the U.S. economy.”
  • Norma Pimentel, a sister of the Missionaries of Jesus, is director of Catholic Charities for the Rio Grande Valley: “Welcome to the border, Mr. President.”
  • Donna Edwards, the former Maryland Democratic congresswoman: “Beware when you hear Trump wave a flag for African Americans.”

-- Mark Morgan, a career FBI official who served as Border Patrol chief for the last six months of the Obama administration before being removed once Trump took office, has come out this week in support of a wall.Colby Itkowitz)

-- Some landowners along the border are gearing up to fight the government’s planned construction of the wall. The AP’s Nomaan Merchant reports: “Congress in March funded 33 miles (53 kilometers) of walls and fencing in Texas. The government has laid out plans that would cut across private land in the Rio Grande Valley. Those in the way include landowners who have lived in the valley for generations, environmental groups and a 19th century chapel. Many have hired lawyers who are preparing to fight the government if, as expected, it moves to seize their land through eminent domain.”

-- Trump’s handling of the shutdown has demonstrated how White House Communications Director Bill Shine is not directing the messaging coming out of the West Wing. The New York Times’s Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman report: “An alumnus of Fox News, where he was known as a protector of the network’s chairman, Roger E. Ailes, Mr. Shine has confined his White House role mainly to stagecraft, people who have worked with him say, and Mr. Trump, who chafes against being managed, has openly expressed skepticism about what he has done. Once he was back in Washington, Mr. Shine was among the aides pushing Mr. Trump to deliver Tuesday’s prime-time Oval Office speech and make a visit to the border on Thursday. And it was Mr. Shine who was among the unnamed targets of the president when Mr. Trump criticized those plans at a lunch with broadcasters before his speech. … To his friends and allies, Mr. Trump wistfully brings up Hope Hicks, his most successful communications director, who departed nearly a year ago.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- The White House has beefed up its legal team and plans to aggressively invoke executive privilege in a bid to contain the potential fallout of the Mueller report and curtail oversight by House Democrats. Carol D. Leonnig reports: “The strategy to strongly assert the president’s executive privilege on both fronts is being developed under newly arrived White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who has hired 17 lawyers in recent weeks to help in the effort. He is coordinating with White House lawyer Emmet Flood, who is leading the response to [Mueller’s] report. … Of particular concern to Democrats: whether the White House will seek to use executive privilege to keep private any portions of Mueller’s report that addresses alleged obstruction of justice by the president.

There is a growing sense that the special counsel’s closely held investigation could come to culmination soon. Some Trump advisers think Mueller could deliver the confidential report explaining his findings to senior Justice Department officials next month. Under the rules authorizing the special counsel, the attorney general can then decide whether to share the report or parts of it with Congress and the public. Some House leaders have vowed to immediately seek to obtain a copy of Mueller’s findings. But the White House would resist the release of details describing confidential and sensitive communications between the president and his senior aides, Trump advisers say. It is unclear whether the special counsel’s report will refer to material that the White House views as privileged communications obtained from interviews with senior White House officials. Some Trump advisers anticipate that Mueller may simply write a concise memo laying out his conclusions about the president’s actions.

“However, Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, said the president’s lawyers have made clear to Justice Department officials that they want to see Mueller’s completed report before the department decides what to share with Congress.”

The White House Counsel’s Office was down to fewer than 20 lawyers late last year, compared with 40 to 50 in past administrations: “Since his arrival in December, Cipollone has increased the staff to roughly 35 lawyer and aims to bolster the ranks to 40 in the coming weeks … He also hired three deputies, all with extensive experience in past Republican White Houses and the Justice Department. … Cipollone first met Trump when Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham, a close friend, recommended him to help prepare the then-candidate for the 2016 presidential debates.”

-- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who will deliver a briefing today to House members on his decision to lift sanctions on companies linked to a Russian oligarch, is attracting more scrutiny from House Democrats. NBC News’s Heidi Przybyla reports: “Mnuchin … has largely escaped investigative scrutiny. But because of his role in the campaign — and, most recently, the Dec. 19 announcement easing sanctions on companies aligned with Oleg Deripaska, the Putin ally with ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — House Democrats believe Mnuchin should be a focus of and source of information for several planned investigations both related and unrelated to the Russia probe, according to the aides. These include examinations of Trump's finances and the business practices of the Trump Organization.”

-- Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he’s looking into whether he could obtain Trump’s tax returns. From Bloomberg News’s Laura Davison and Kaustuv Basu: “Grassley said he’s planning to meet with nonpartisan congressional tax advisers to learn more about the process. … Still, the Iowa Republican cautioned that he hasn’t yet made a decision about whether he would ask Treasury to release the documents. ‘Don’t interpret this as looking into it, but I’m going to have a briefing by Joint Tax on what all of this involves before I answer any questions,’ Grassley told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.”

-- Republican senators promised William Barr would not interfere with Mueller’s investigation if he is confirmed as attorney general. Karoun Demirjian, Seung Min Kim and Devlin Barrett report: “‘Based on what I heard, he has a high opinion of Mr. Mueller, believes Mr. Mueller is doing a professional job, will do a professional job and be fair to the president and the country as a whole,’ Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters, adding that Barr sees ‘no reason for Mr. Mueller to stop doing his job and is committed to allowing Mr. Mueller to finish.’ Graham is one of four Republican senators with whom Barr met on Wednesday, as he prepares for a two-part confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Tuesday and Wednesday. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), one of the senators who met with Barr on Wednesday afternoon, emerged citing similar confidence that the nominee would be largely hands-off when it came to Mueller’s probe.”

-- But Chuck Schumer has called on Trump to rescind Barr’s nomination over the nominee’s past criticism of the Mueller probe. Citing a memo Barr wrote last year that described Mueller’s investigation of possible obstruction of justice as “fatally misconceived,” Schumer said on the Senate floor, “The Senate … should subject Mr. Barr’s views to the strictest of scrutiny next week, and I still believe, after the revelations about Mr. Barr’s unsolicited memo, President Trump ought to withdraw this nomination.” (Politico)

-- The Center for American Progress has tracked more than 100 contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and transition team and Russian-linked officials. USA Today’s Christal Hayes reports: “‘This wasn't just one email or call, or one this or that,’ said Talia Dessel, a research analyst for the left-leaning organization. ‘Over 100 contacts is really significant because you don't just have 100 contacts with a foreign power if there's nothing going on there.’ … Dessel noted the group's list of contacts is on the ‘conservative’ end and the ‘very minimum amount of contacts’ between Russian-linked officials and those within the Trump campaign and transition.”

-- The New York Times corrected a story we included in yesterday’s 202: “A previous version of this article misidentified the people to whom Paul Manafort wanted a Russian associate to send polling data. Mr. Manafort wanted the data sent to two Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, not to Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin.”

-- Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) asked the FEC to investigate an alleged disinformation campaign by Democratic strategists to help him win his 2017 special election. The New York Times’s Alan Blinder reports: “‘Such deceptive tactics have no place in American politics and must be repudiated by those involved in our political system,’ Mr. Jones wrote in a letter to Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democratic member of the commission. Neither Mr. Jones nor his campaign is believed to have known about, much less approved of, any of the deception. Mr. Jones had quickly pledged to seek an inquiry, but his notarized letter on Wednesday … represented his first formal step in support of an investigation by the commission.”

-- A Russian cybersecurity firm banned from U.S. government networks helped the NSA identify a suspect in the agency’s massive 2016 data breach. Ellen Nakashima reports: “Federal prosecutors in August 2016 arrested a former NSA contractor, Harold T. Martin III, accusing him of taking home without permission at least 50 terabytes of data — the rough equivalent of 500 million pages of material — that included highly sensitive hacking tools. But the NSA’s enhanced vigilance was not what led to Martin’s arrest at his home in Glen Burnie, Md. Rather, earlier that month, Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab notified the NSA that it had received strange Twitter messages from Martin seeking to speak with Kaspersky’s founder, along with a cryptic comment, ‘shelf life, three weeks,’ according to two people familiar with the matter."

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump this morning denied that he slammed the table when he left his meeting with Democrats:

And he reiterated his claim that the GOP is unified:

He also pledged that he won't cave:

Trump complained about his comments in a closed-door meeting being leaked and lashed out against the news media as “totally bonkers”:

The secretary of state arrived in Cairo:

A Republican senator expressed her view on the pointlessness of the shutdown:

Maryland's Republican governor accused Washington of playing political games at the expense of average Americans:

A Republican congressman explained the reason for the gridlock to a Post reporter:

The host of “Morning Joe,” a former Republican congressman, reflected on the future of the GOP:

A presidential historian tweeted a famous Trump quote after he walked out of his meeting with Democratic leadership:

The libertarian Cato Institute fact-checked Trump's dire warnings about undocumented immigrants:

An energy reporter for the LA Times imagined this scenario:

A cab driver told a Post reporter about the personal impact of the shutdown:

National Park employees lent a helping hand:

A Post reporter obtained this behind-the-scenes detail about Trump's meeting with Schumer and Pelosi:

A House Republican explained his awkward reaction to his Democratic colleagues' applause for their funding bills:

A Senate Republican and House Republican shared this uniquely divisive exchange about Trump's attorney general nominee:

But Barr is refusing to meet with several Democrats on the committee he will appear before next week, with the administration citing the shutdown as the reason. A Daily Beast reporter wondered:

An Obama-era DOJ spokesman replied:

A Democratic senator added this:

The House speaker reacted to Trump's threat to withhold federal money to fight wildfires in California:

John Delaney, a Democratic presidential candidate, is on his way to Iowa:

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) continued her book tour as she weighs a 2020 bid. From a CNN reporter:

New polling indicates Iowa Democrats are cool on the idea of nominating a business leader:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) expressed frustration with critics seeking negative information about her:

Mike Flynn has been allowed some freedom of movement as he awaits his sentencing:

And Mitch McConnell met his colleague's new puppy:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Gizmodo, “How Cartographers for the U.S. Military Inadvertently Created a House of Horrors in South Africa,” by Kashmir Hill: “The visitors started coming in 2013. The first one who came and refused to leave until he was let inside was a private investigator named Roderick. He was looking for an abducted girl, and he was convinced she was in the house. John S. and his mother Ann live in the house, which is in Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa and next to Johannesburg. … John and Ann are not criminals. John is a lawyer who works on property law and human rights cases—helping asylum seekers and returning stolen land to black South Africans. Ann is a nurse who has spent most of her life in labor and delivery rooms in Africa and the Middle East. … They just happen to live in a very unfortunate location, a location cursed by dimwitted decisions made by people who lived half a world away, people who made designations on maps and in databases without thinking about the real-world places and people they represented.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Pelosi, Schumer response tops Trump speech in preliminary ratings,” from the Hill: “According to early numbers from Nielsen, the quarter hour from 9 to 9:15 p.m. EST that included the president's address attracted a combined 28.1 rating in metered markets on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. The 15 minutes that followed immediately after that included remarks by Pelosi and Schumer registered 29.3 across those same networks. The early numbers also show that the Pelosi-Schumer response beat Trump by 26 percent on CNN and 15 percent on MSNBC, according to Deadline. Deadline also notes the Trump address and Democratic response got an equal number of viewers on Fox News.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Holocaust group sought reconsideration of Angela Davis honor,” from the AP: “An Alabama civil rights organization withdrew a planned human rights award from political activist Angela Davis after a group that educates Alabamians about the Holocaust asked them to reconsider the honor. The Birmingham Holocaust Education Center wrote to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on Jan. 2 expressing ‘concern and disappointment’ about the plan to honor Davis with an award named for minister and civil rights pioneer Fred L. Shuttlesworth. The letter urged the institute to ‘reconsider your decision.’ The Holocaust group cited ‘recent outspoken support’ of a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, Al.com reported.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will travel to the border for an immigration roundtable and a briefing on border security.

Lawmakers and friends will gather at the Capitol to honor the legacy of Jamal Khashoggi. Today marks 100 days since the Post contributing columnist’s death. (New Yorker)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“You know why you can enjoy a day at the zoo? Because walls work.” — Donald Trump Jr. (CBS News)

 

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

-- It will be cold and windy in D.C. today, foreshadowing possible weekend snow. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunshine is back in control. A few scattered clouds race by as northwest winds gust as high as 35 mph. Highs in the upper 30s to low 40s feel about 10 degrees colder thanks to those unabating winds.”

-- The Wizards beat the 76ers 123-106. (Roman Stubbs)

-- Maryland Senate President Mike Miller is receiving treatment for prostate cancer. Ovetta Wiggins and Rachel Chason report: “Miller, 76, the longest-serving senate president in the country, received the diagnosis shortly after the Christmas holiday, [two sources said] … One person with direct knowlege of Miller’s condition described it as ‘aggressive,’ and said the Senate president was emotional when he recently talked about the diagnosis and reminisced about his long tenure in the Senate. The other person described the cancer as ‘advanced.’ Miller had shared the news with only a few people as of Wednesday, but he walked with a cane and appeared physically ill as he opened the annual 90-day legislative session in Annapolis. A day earlier, he was absent from the Democrats’ annual pre-session luncheon.”

-- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) delivered a State of the Commonwealth speech in which he urged Republican legislators to consider his proposed budget. Laura Vozzella and Gregory S. Schneider report: “The governor wants to spend some $1.2 billion that could flood state coffers because of changes to the federal tax code under the tax cuts President Trump signed last year. He wants half of that amount to fund tax breaks for Virginian households making less than $54,000 a year, the state’s median income. He would use the other half to shore up the state’s reserve funds and make ‘historic’ investments in schools, the environment, rural broadband and other priorities. Republicans, though, want to change Virginia tax code so that much of that money goes back to taxpayers at middle- and higher- income brackets.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Jimmy Fallon scrutinized the opening line of Trump's immigration address:

Trevor Noah mocked the Democratic response to Trump's address:

The Daily Show trolled Trump with this 2004 video of him delivering a commencement address at New York's Wagner College:

One federal employee explained how the shutdown is forcing her to continue paying for day care she can't access:

The Fact Checker awarded Trump one Pinocchio for his claim that good jobs numbers were fueled by factories returning to the United States from overseas:

And Trump tried to turn an ABC News reporter's question back on him (with little success):