With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: The top three Republicans in House leadership each rebuked Rep. Steve King on Thursday after the Iowa Republican wondered aloud how the terms “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” became “offensive” during an interview with the New York Times.

Steve’s language is reckless, wrong and has no place in our society,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said. “Everything about white supremacy and white nationalism goes against who we are as a nation.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said it was “offensive to try to legitimize those terms.” He credited King for issuing a statement after the story published that said, “I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who just became No. 3 in GOP leadership by winning the race for conference chair, tweeted: “These comments are abhorrent and racist and should have no place in our national discourse.”

“Both McCarthy and Scalise were silent in October when asked for comment on incendiary remarks King had made then,” Felicia Sonmez notes. “At the time, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), then the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was the only member of House GOP leadership to rebuke King.”

-- “Mr. King, in the interview, said he was not a racist,” Trip Gabriel reports in the Times. “He pointed to his Twitter timeline showing him greeting Iowans of all races and religions in his Washington office. (The same office once displayed a Confederate flag on his desk.) At the same time, he said, he supports immigrants who enter the country legally and fully assimilate because what matters more than race is ‘the culture of America’ based on values brought to the United States by whites from Europe. ‘White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?’ Mr. King said. ‘Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?’ …

“Last week, as the new Congress was sworn in, Mr. King sat on his side of a chamber sharply delineated by demographics,” the story concludes. “The Democratic majority included record numbers of African-Americans and women, including the first Native American and the first Muslim women. Mr. King’s side was mostly people who look like him. ‘You could look over there and think the Democratic Party is no country for white men,’ he said.”

-- King is not some random backbencher. In the most recent Congress, he chaired the House Judiciary Committee’s prestigious Constitution subcommittee. More than that, though, the Times story lays out King’s influence on President Trump and his role in bringing the debate over a border wall into the mainstream.

“Mr. Trump’s preoccupation with the wall and anti-immigrant politics reflects how he has embraced the once-fringe views of Mr. King,” Trip writes. “Mr. King may have been ostracized by some Republicans over his racist remarks and extremist ties, but as much of the nation debates immigration, his views now carry substantial influence on the right. … Early in Mr. Trump’s term, the president invited Mr. King … to the Oval Office. There, the president boasted of having raised more money for the congressman’s campaigns than anyone else, including during a 2014 Iowa visit, Mr. King recalled in an interview with The Times. ‘Yes, Mr. President,’ Mr. King replied. ‘But I market-tested your immigration policy for 14 years, and that ought to be worth something.’”

-- Indeed, King has a long history of making inflammatory comments related to immigration that predates the Trump era. “In the fall, he voiced support for Faith Goldy, an unsuccessful Toronto mayoral candidate who has promoted the baseless notion that a ‘white genocide’ is underway,” Isaac Stanley-Becker notes. “Shortly thereafter, reports surfaced that King had met in August with members of an Austrian political party founded by former Nazis, during a trip funded by a group that promotes awareness of the Holocaust.”

He’s routinely questioned the value of nonwhite diversity. “I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about,” he told Esquire in 2016. “Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

In 2013, he told Newsmax that for every immigrant in the country illegally who becomes valedictorian, there are “another 100 out there that — they weigh 130 pounds, and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

The Weekly Standard reported in November that King jokingly referred to Mexican immigrants as “dirt” while bantering with supporters before a campaign event. When King denied it, the conservative magazine released audio that backed up its reporting. When the publication was shuttered a few weeks later for reasons that had nothing to do with the piece, King celebrated its demise.

-- During a Daily 202 Live interview last June, Scalise ripped Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) for her incendiary comments about confronting Trump’s aides but demurred when I pressed him about King retweeting a self-professed “Nazi sympathizer” and then refusing to delete it. “I haven’t seen the tweet,” Scalise said, despite it being in the news for several days. “I have not seen the tweet, and you know, maybe we’ll go take a look at it and talk to Steve and see what’s going on there.”

As the conversation moved to other issues, Scalise circled back to say that it’s important to condemn Nazi sympathizers but stopped short of chastising King. “We need to be very vocal about condemning that kind of viewpoint, because there are still people out there that try to go under the false impression that the Holocaust didn’t exist,” he said. “I mean people say that, and it’s wrong.”

-- In addition to the substance of King’s comments, there are eight other factors that might explain why Republican leaders are more willing to publicly break with him than they have been in the past:

1. The midterms showed King could be defeated. He won his ninth term in November by only three percentage points, even though Trump had carried the district by 27 points in 2016. That was without national Democrats investing any resources to support Democrat J.D. Scholten, a former independent-league baseball player.

During the run-up to the midterms, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) declined to remove King as the co-chair of her campaign for a full term. “I can't be held responsible for everyone's comments,” she told reporters, adding that she “strongly disagreed with the comments that he’s made.”

This week, Reynolds announced that she will not endorse King in 2020. “The last election was a wake-up call — for it to be that close,” she told the Des Moines NBC affiliate WHO on Wednesday. “That indicates that it does open the door for other individuals to take a look at that. … I will stay out of the primary. I'm not going to weigh in.”

2. King now faces a credible primary challenger, which he has not in the past. On Wednesday, Iowa state Sen. Randy Feenstra (R) – an assistant majority leader and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee – announced that he will take on King for the GOP nomination. Feenstra argued that he can be more effective at advancing the Trump agenda. “Today, Iowa’s 4th District doesn’t have a voice in Washington, because our current representative’s caustic nature has left us without a seat at the table,” he said in a  statement. “We don’t need any more sideshows or distractions.”

Last night, Feenstra sought to raise money off King’s latest comments, which he described as “another embarrassment”:

King’s son, who manages his campaigns, responded to Feenstra’s announcement by highlighting Trump’s previous endorsement of King as “the world’s most conservative human being.”

A second Republican, Army veteran Bret Richards, also announced that he will run this week. “I’m hearing there may be at least one more GOP challenger who hasn’t yet announced as well,” said Kathie Obradovich, the opinion editor at the Des Moines Register.

3. Forcefully condemning King now could dissuade him from seeking a 10th term. Strategists in both parties agree that the odds of the GOP holding the northwest Iowa seat go up dramatically if he doesn’t run again.

Notably, the new chairman of the NRCC, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), declined to say Thursday whether the party will back the incumbent in 2020. “It's too early to think about campaigns, I mean that's two years away,” Emmer told the Hill, arguing that the committee does not typically “play in primaries.” Regarding the Times story, the chairman said: “I disagree with the statements as they've been characterized, as I understand them, and it's not helpful.”

4. Iowa will be a battleground again in 2020 for president, Senate and House — and King could be a drag on the rest of the GOP ticket.

Democrats picked up two of Iowa’s four House seats in November, and Republicans promise to target both of them again next year. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is also seeking a second term, and she is considered one of the three or four most vulnerable GOP incumbents in the country. Ernst’s press office did not respond to my request for comment yesterday on whether she still backs King after his comments to the Times.

Veteran Iowa political journalist David Yepsen thinks Scholten’s chances of being able to beat Ernst in the Senate race are higher than beating anyone but King in the Fourth District. “Arguably less of a long shot,” he posted on Twitter. Interestingly, Scholten retweeted that.

5. Republican presidential aspirants have been reluctant to cross King in the past because he commands a loyal following among the devoted grass-roots activists who attend low-turnout caucuses in outsize numbers, but there’s no nominating fight to worry about in 2020. At least right now.

6. Because they now control the majority, House Democrats can force Republicans to take a position on King. Several Democrats, led by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), are calling on leadership to quickly take up a resolution that would formally censure King for his comments. It could pass with a simple majority. It would force every Republican to take an on-the-record position about their colleague. Ryan’s staff is drafting a censure resolution for him to introduce.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) voiced interest in the effort, per Politico.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who was born in Iowa and has been testing the waters for a potential long-shot bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination, also seized on the issue.

Some rank-and-file Republicans appear open to a vote for censure. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.), for example, blasted King’s comments to the Times. “The embrace of these terms and philosophies are fundamentally wrong and offensive and have no place in Congress, our nation, or anywhere,” he tweeted.

Another Michigan Republican, Rep. Justin Amash, added: “This is an embrace of racism, and it has no place in Congress or anywhere.”

Suggesting that he recognizes the underlying political dynamics have shifted, King sounded less defiant and combative yesterday than he has during previous firestorms. In addition to a news release, he gave a sit-down interview to NBC News. “I reject white nationalism. I reject white supremacy. It's not part of any of my ideology,” he said in his Capitol Hill office. “I reject anyone who carries that ideology.”

7. The donor community and the business world have turned on King. Corporate America, which has long been more supportive of immigration than other elements of the GOP coalition, has become more activist in the Trump era under pressure from employees and customers. During the home stretch before the midterms, several corporate PACs pulled support for King. Among them: the chipmaker Intel, pet-food-maker Purina, the dairy Land O’Lakes and the ham producers at Smithfield.

8. Conservative thought leaders are ready to write King out of the movement. The model is William F. Buckley’s legendary crusade against Robert Welch and the John Birch Society in the pages of National Review. Rich Lowry, now the editor of NR, called King’s comments yesterday “simply contemptible.”

Stephen Hayes, who as editor in chief of the Weekly Standard made the call to publish the audio of King joking about immigrants as “dirt,” said yesterday: “What sane, thoughtful conservative would choose to remain in a party home to such an unapologetic bigot?”

Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro, the editor in chief of the Daily Wire, who publicly appeared with King last March, broke with him yesterday and urged followers to donate to Feenstra. In March 2017, when King tweeted that “we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies,” Shapiro rallied to his defense. “The deep desire to paint Republicans as racists rather than defenders of Western cultural superiority leads the media to lie,” he wrote. But Shapiro updated that post yesterday to say he now realizes that he “gave far too generous an interpretation of King's words.”

The executive producer of Shapiro’s show on the Daily Wire posted his own mea culpa:

-- The anti-tax Club for Growth also suggested that it might endorse King’s primary opponent, citing his apostasy on the fiscal issues the group cares about most: 

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The U.S. military announced it has started removing troops from Syria. Louisa Loveluck reports: “U.S. forces have ‘begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,’ a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State said. ‘Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements.’ … The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said sources in Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakah reported the departure of about 10 armored vehicles from a military base in the town of Rmelan late Thursday. ... Foreign allies, including the Kurdish-led force that has spearheaded Washington’s fight against the Islamic State, say they had not received warning about the withdrawal announcement, and administration officials initially offered differing timetables for its completion.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl knew of sexual misconduct allegations against ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick and reported them to the Vatican in 2004, despite portraying himself since last summer as unaware of any complaints surrounding McCarrick. (Michelle Boorstein)

  2. Jayme Closs was found alive in Wisconsin three months after she was kidnapped from the home where her parents were murdered. A woman walking her dog recognized the girl after she fled her captor, and the pair sought help from the nearest house. Police will hold a news conference this morning to explain more about her rescue. (Isaac Stanley-Becker)

  3. New research found the world’s oceans are heating up far more quickly than previously thought. The analysis, published in the journal Science, shows that oceans are warming 40 percent faster on average than a U.N. panel estimated in 2014. (New York Times)

  4. Lawmakers paid tribute to Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Capitol. The event marked 100 days since the dissident journalist was murdered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. (Paul Kane)

  5. Myanmar rejected the appeal of two Reuters journalists who were jailed last year while reporting on violence against the country’s Rohingya minority. Human rights groups and media watchdogs reacted with outrage after Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in jail for violating Myanmar’s colonial-era state secrets law. (Cape Diamond and Timothy McLaughlin)

  6. China is cracking down on the country’s Twitter users, even though the social media platform is blocked there. Police are increasingly questioning and detaining those who use Twitter as President Xi Jinping escalates his campaign to stifle China’s Internet activity. (New York Times)

  7. British police are advising shops to beef up security in the event of a no-deal Brexit. If the United Kingdom falls out of the European Union without an agreement, fears about shortages of food and other goods could create massive crowds and overwhelm retailers. (Politico)

  8. An attempt to rescue 15 miners trapped in India is looking increasingly bleak. It has been nearly a month since water flooded the “rat hole” mine and trapped the men, and navy divers have been unable to explore the mine’s tunnels because of the depth of the water. (Joanna Slater and Sannio Siangshai)

  9. Louisiana became the first state to move forward with the “Netflix model” of paying for hepatitis C treatments. The plan would allow Louisiana to pay a subscription fee to a drug company rather than paying for individual prescriptions, which could dramatically increase the number of people who have access to the drug. (Carolyn Y. Johnson)

  10. Conservative megadonor Robert Mercer's status as a volunteer deputy sheriff in Yuma County, Colo., was revoked. Sheriff Chad Day submitted papers for the revocation on Day's last day in office after he lost his reelection bid, in part because of blowback over Mercer’s purchase of a truck for the sheriff’s official use. (Bloomberg News)

SHUTDOWN LATEST:

-- The White House continues laying the groundwork to declare a national emergency to get money for the border wall, possibly by tapping disaster relief funds. Erica Werner, Josh Dawsey, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim report: “The administration is eyeing unused money in the Army Corps of Engineers budget, specifically a disaster spending bill passed by Congress last year that includes $13.9 billion allocated but not spent for civil works projects, two people with knowledge of the developments said Thursday. Trump has urged the Army Corps to determine how fast contracts could be signed and whether construction could begin within 45 days, according to one of the people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the preparations. The list includes dozens of flood control projects in areas affected by recent natural disasters, including the Texas coastline inundated by Hurricane Harvey and parts of Puerto Rico battered by Hurricane Maria. The military construction budget is also being looked at as a potential source for unspent funds, with billions more potentially available there.

Some 800,000 federal workers are about to miss their first paychecks since the shutdown began Dec. 22, and problems plaguing shuttered national parks, food inspection processes and other federal services are multiplying. The Senate unanimously passed legislation Thursday that would guarantee back pay to furloughed federal workers once the shutdown ends, although thousands of government contractors who have been furloughed may never recoup their losses. [Trump] reiterated Thursday that he may declare a national emergency if Democrats don’t give him what he wants. ‘Now if we don’t make a deal with Congress, most likely I will do that,’ Trump said to Fox News host Sean Hannity about an emergency declaration in an interview that aired Thursday night. ... At the same time, House Democrats pressed forward with their strategy of passing individual spending bills to reopen portions of the federal government that have been closed in the shutdown.”

But some Democrats, while publicly vowing to fight an emergency declaration through the courts, see a silver lining to the potential move: “One Democratic aide called an emergency declaration an ‘elegant way out of this mess’ — one that would allow Trump and Republicans to declare to their most fervent supporters that they had taken Democrats to the brink, while Democrats would quickly move to tie up any construction in the courts. The House and Senate could move quickly to pass a bill to reopen the government, predicated on assurances from Trump that he would sign the legislation. … Many Democrats also say that an emergency declaration would benefit them politically by unifying their party while splitting Republicans, creating unease among some conservatives who have expressed discomfort with a president sidestepping Congress in a way they might see as similar to how President Barack Obama circumvented Congress on immigration.”

A separate effort among a group of Republican senators to craft a compromise that could reopen the government ended in failure: “These deal-minded Senate Republicans had shuttled Thursday morning between meetings with [Mitch McConnell] and Vice President Pence, batting around a proposal that would include Trump’s desired $5.7 billion in wall funding, and a renewable, three-year status for certain immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, along with other provisions. But by midafternoon Thursday, Pence poured cold water on the idea, telling reporters at the Capitol that Trump wanted to wait on trying to make a deal for ‘dreamers’ until the Supreme Court had ruled on [DACA]. [Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)] was glum afterward about where things stood, saying he has ‘never been more depressed about moving forward than right now.’ Not long after that he issued his statement backing a national emergency declaration.”

-- Jared Kushner has been urging Trump not to issue an emergency declaration. The Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender, Kristina Peterson and Peter Nicholas report: “Declaring a national emergency, an option Mr. Trump has been leaning toward, shouldn’t be used to try to win a messaging war against Democrats opposed to a wall, Mr. Kushner said in a recent Oval Office meeting, [White House] officials said. Instead, Mr. Kushner argued an emergency should be invoked only if it creates a clear path for the White House to build the wall, the key issue in the standoff between Mr. Trump and congressional Democrats that has led to the shutdown. ‘Let’s stop doing things just to do them,’ Mr. Kushner said, according to officials familiar with the meeting.”

-- The White House is operating with less than half of its full-time staff as Trump digs in on his immigration demands. The New York Times’s Katie Rogers reports: “The White House has stopped paying its water bill. Desks of some furloughed employees, whose job can include such drudgeries as helping their bosses work the copy machine, sit empty in the West Wing. … But multiple administration officials have stressed this week that despite the shutdown, it is still business as usual. … Still, while Trump administration officials emphasize the normality, others who have endured lengthy shutdowns warned of the broader effects on the White House staff, including an inevitable slowdown in accomplishing important policy decisions with fewer workers.”

-- Trump's team is also seeking to resume more stalled federal services, sparking increasing complaints of executive overreach. Damian Paletta reports: “The message, conveyed during a conference call between top officials at the White House Office of Management and Budget and federal agencies, is part of a broader effort to keep large parts of the federal government running while [Trump] digs in for a lengthy battle over a border wall. … The rapid and in many cases unprecedented scope of OMB’s directives has prompted criticism from Democrats and some Republicans that the White House is bending the rules to contain political fallout. … Keeping basic functions of government intact during the shutdown has also taken the administration into uncharted legal territory, reversing precedents as it searches for ways to fund efforts for which Congress has not appropriated any money.”

-- Construction of the wall could trigger more legal fights over the government attempting to seize private property through eminent domain. Katie Zezima and Mark Berman report: “Previous eminent domain attempts along the Texas border have led to more than a decade of court battles, some of which date to George W. Bush’s administration and have yet to be resolved. Many landowners … are vowing to fight anew. … The Texas Civil Rights Project is now trying to let people know that they are not required to sign over access to their land. They are going door-to-door in some neighborhoods, letting people know their rights, and they are running digital ads and spots on local radio stations.”

-- Visiting the border, Trump dubiously insisted that Mexico would still eventually pay for his wall. Philip Rucker and Felicia Sonmez report: “At a U.S. Border Patrol station, where he attended a roundtable on immigration and border security, Trump ... maintained [it] would eventually be paid for by Mexico ‘many, many times over’ through a new trade deal that has yet to be ratified by Congress. ‘I didn’t mean, “Please write me a check,”’ Trump said of his oft-made claim that Mexico would pay for the wall. During the 2016 campaign, Trump’s campaign sent The Washington Post a memo detailing its plan for Mexico to make ‘a one-time payment of $5-10 billion’ to pay for the border wall. Even if approved by Congress, the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal would not necessarily contribute more money to federal coffers, as countries do not ‘lose’ money on trade deficits.”

-- “The episode illustrates how [Trump’s] routine application of falsehoods, exaggerations and lies in service of political combat has come back to burn him,” David Nakamura explains. “He did say [Mexico would directly pay for the wall] — at least 212 times during his campaign and dozens more since he took office. … And now during the shutdown, the White House is searching far and wide for potential pots of money it can tap … ‘The story keeps changing by the day — like everything,’ said Cecilia Muñoz, a vice president at New America, a liberal think tank, who served as a White House domestic policy adviser under [Obama]. Of Trump’s original plan for funding the wall, she added: ‘They had no earthly idea how they would get Mexico to do that, so they came up with an idea to try to pass the laugh test, which they didn’t do.’”

-- “When [Trump] headed to one of the busiest areas along the Texas-Mexico border Thursday morning, he was dressed for a natural disaster,” fashion critic Robin Givhan writes. “He was scheduled for a roundtable discussion about immigration and border security in McAllen, Tex., and a security briefing at the Rio Grande. Yet there was no wildfire, earthquake or rogue hurricane bearing down on either of these places. Frankly, the weather reports looked fairly pleasant. The ground was not shifting. But no matter. The point was not whether there was scorched rubble to navigate or water-soaked sofas and mattresses around which to maneuver. The clothes were a symbolic flourish to underscore the message: The border itself is the disaster.

THE HUMAN TOLL:

-- Some government employees have started selling household items online to help make ends meet. Taylor Telford reports: “A federal worker in Morgantown, W.Va., took to Facebook this week to sell welding tools, left behind by his deceased father-in-law. Another, a die-hard Star Wars fan in Woodbridge, Va., did the same with a life-size replica of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber. A single father in Indiana hosted a sale on eBay with five pages of things found around the house, including Bibles, Nintendo bedsheets and Dr. Seuss neckties. ‘Sells for $93.88 at Walmart. Asking $10,’ a government worker wrote on a Craigslist ad for a Lulu Ladybug rocking chair. ‘We need money to pay bills.’”

-- The FBI Agents Association warned that today’s missed paycheck could affect security clearances of their members. Devlin Barrett, Tom Jackman and Nick Miroff report: “In a letter to the White House and lawmakers, FBIAA leaders wrote that their agents ‘are subject to high security standards that include rigorous and routine financial background checks. . . . Missing payments on debts could create delays in securing or renewing security clearances, and could even disqualify agents from continuing to serve in some cases.’ [FBIAA President Thomas] O’Connor said FBI investigations already are being affected. No one at the FBI is getting paid, but investigators are still working while much of their support staffs, including some surveillance experts, are not, O’Connor said.”

-- “Air traffic controllers get their first shutdown pay stub: $0.00,” by Mike Laris: “Before Corey Soignet had hundreds of lives in his hands, hour after hour, in the airspace above Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, he spent years guiding military aircraft. He had joined the Air National Guard with an eye toward becoming a pilot, but found being an air traffic controller such meaningful work that he made it his career. He’s learned the ‘hyper focus’ needed to help guide aircraft through night skies and brutal storms. On Thursday, Soignet — with 22 years of experience working for the military and Federal Aviation Administration — got a look at his wages for the last two weeks of work helping keep U.S. skies and travelers safe. His net pay? $0.00. … Soignet knew it was coming, but it was jarring nonetheless. ‘Now I don’t know how much I can put toward that credit card,’ he said. ‘Do I pay half my water bill? Do I have enough money for 30 days or 60 days or six months? You can’t ask people to budget like that.’ … More than 24,000 FAA employees are working without pay, since their positions are considered vital for ‘life and safety.’”

-- Many farmers, who have largely stood by Trump as he launched his trade war, are starting to reconsider their support. The New York Times’s Jack Healy and Tyler Pager report: “While many rural conservatives may loathe the idea of Big Government, farmers and the federal government are welded together by dozens of programs and billions of dollars in spending. Now, farmers and farm groups say that federal crop payments have stopped flowing. Farmers cannot get federally backed operating loans to buy seed for their spring planting, or feed for their livestock. They cannot look up new government data about beef prices or soybean yields to make decisions about planting and selling their goods in an ever-changing global market.”

-- Experts warned the funding lapse could affect the 2020 Census, even as the Census Bureau says it has enough money for up to eight weeks of work. Tara Bahrampour reports: “The bureau is relying on $1.056 billion in forward funding from the fiscal 2018 bill, which can be used only for 2020 Census activities and not for other work, to last into mid to late February. But Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee, estimated it would be hard to work full-bore on that amount of funding until then. ‘I believe they will be able to last that long only if they delay or slow-walk some of the less urgent but no less important preparations,’ she said.”

-- More immigration fallout: Some foreign tech workers are considering moves to Canada as Trump threatens their visa program. Emily Rauhala reports: “Trump has vowed to crack down on the H-1B visa program, which allows 85,000 foreigners per year to work in ‘specialty occupations’ in the United States. But there are no new rules yet, creating a climate of uncertainty and fear, particularly in Silicon Valley. … Immigration lawyers and recruiters on both sides of the border say the number of inquiries from nervous H-1B holders has skyrocketed since 2017. A small group of Canadian entrepreneurs are dropping into Silicon Valley to persuade companies that rely on foreign tech workers to move them across the border.”

But Trump tweeted this morning that his administration may propose a potential pathway to citizenship for H-1B visa holders:

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Must-see TV: Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen will testify publicly before Congress next month. Karoun Demirjian and Matt Zapotosky report: “Cohen agreed to the Feb. 7 appearance voluntarily, [House Oversight Committee Chairman] Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said in a statement. ‘I want to make clear that we have no interest in inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations, and to that end, we are in the process of consulting with special counsel [Bob] Mueller’s office,’ Cummings said, promising that the panel would announce more information about the hearing in the coming weeks. … Cohen said ... that he had accepted Cummings’s invitation to testify ‘in furtherance of my commitment to cooperate and provide the American people with answers.’ ‘I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired,’ he continued in the statement.”

-- Bob Mueller's prosecutors questioned one of Trump’s campaign pollsters. CNN’s Sara Murray and Katelyn Polantz report: “Mueller's team met with pollster Tony Fabrizio in February 2018, an interview that has not been previously reported and takes on new significance after Manafort's attorneys revealed Tuesday that Mueller's team is still interested in how Manafort shared polling data with his Russian intelligence-linked colleague. … A veteran pollster and political strategist, Fabrizio worked on Ukrainian elections with Manafort and went on to serve as the Trump campaign's chief pollster beginning in the spring of 2016. A source familiar with the special counsel's interest said Fabrizio's interview included questions about his polling work for Manafort in Ukraine rather than his internal Trump campaign polling. It is not clear what other topics were broached in the interview or whether it solely focused on Fabrizio's knowledge of Manafort's business dealings.”

-- Trump said he knew nothing about Manafort sharing campaign polling data with a Russian associate. “No, I didn’t know anything about it,” Trump said in response to a reporter’s question as he left the White House to travel to the border. (John Wagner)

-- Filings from the Mueller investigation indicate the special counsel may weigh Trump’s public statements when considering whether he committed obstruction of justice. CNN’s Evan Perez, Pamela Brown and Laura Jarrett report: “As [Mueller] wraps up his Russia probe, investigators have focused on conflicting public statements by [Trump] and his team that could be seen as an effort to influence witnesses and obstruct justice, according to people familiar with the investigation. … Court filings from [Michael Cohen’s plea] included allegations related to false public statements — not usually considered illegal since they aren't made directly to investigators. A December sentencing memo filed by Mueller's office notes that Cohen's lies were amplified in public statements, ‘including to other potential witnesses.’”

-- Attorney general nominee William Barr met with a handful of Democratic senators who voiced concerns about his past criticism of the Mueller probe. Karoun Demirjian reports: “‘The Mueller probe is the big issue for me … he reassured to some extent. The hard questions have to get asked in the public and get on the record,’ Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, said of her Thursday morning meeting with Barr. … Feinstein is one of five Judiciary Committee Democrats who met with Barr on Thursday, after several complained they were being iced out of his schedule and being told it was due to the partial government shutdown.”

-- After meeting with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin behind closed doors, House Democrats called for a delay in easing sanctions on a Russian company controlled by an ally of Vladimir Putin. Jeanne Whalen reports: “Treasury notified Congress last month that it planned to lift sanctions on Rusal, an aluminum company controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. … ‘This, with stiff competition, mind you, was one of the worst classified briefings we’ve received from the Trump administration,’ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said after the briefing. ‘The secretary barely testified. He answered some questions, but he didn’t give testimony.’ Asked whether House Democrats were considering introducing a resolution of disapproval to try to stop Treasury from easing the sanctions, as Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer has done in the Senate, Pelosi said: ‘We’ll see.’”

-- Federal prosecutors are probing whether Ukrainian lawmakers and business leaders who attended Trump’s inauguration were there to try to ease sanctions on Russia. The New York Times’s Kenneth P. Vogel, Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti and Iuliia Mendel report: “Evidence of the Ukrainians’ presence eventually prompted interest from [Mueller] as he investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, and has spawned a number of related inquiries by federal prosecutors. The investigations are playing out against growing indications that some of the Ukrainians who came to Washington for the inaugural, or their allies, were promoting grand bargains, or ‘peace’ plans, that aligned with Russia’s interests, including by lifting sanctions. Such a deal would not just have given the new administration additional flexibility to bring Moscow into American diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, but could also have eased the way for a cast of characters with ties to Mr. Trump — some of whom in turn had ties to the Ukrainians who came to Washington — to move ahead on business deals that had been complicated by the sanctions.”

THE NEW CONGRESS:

-- Missouri state auditors have started a probe into Josh Hawley’s tenure as attorney general, a process that will include “heightened scrutiny” into allegations the Republican illegally used state resources to support his successful Senate campaign. From McClatchy D.C.: “In this case, the state’s Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft asked [State Auditor Nicole] Galloway, a Democrat, to use her subpoena power to aid his own investigation into whether Hawley violated a state law that bars elected officials from using public funds to support political campaigns. Ashcroft’s request for Galloway’s help followed a report by The Kansas City Star in October that out-of-state campaign consultants, who would go on to run Hawley’s Senate campaign, gave direct guidance and tasks to taxpayer-funded staff in the attorney general’s office as they sought to raise his national profile. …

“Eighty-five pages of records released by Hawley’s office shortly before Christmas confirmed The Star’s reporting. Those documents show public employees in his office used private email addresses for official business and frequently took direction from political consultants. The records include conversations conducted on private email addresses between Hawley’s political consultants and his taxpayer-funded staff, starting almost immediately after Hawley was sworn in as attorney general in January 2017. …

“Also among the cache of records is one titled ‘gg draft 7/12.’ It appears to be Washington, D.C., political consultant Gail Gitcho’s public relations plan for the attorney general’s office regarding a raid of more than a dozen Asian massage parlors … The raid was part of a human trafficking and prostitution investigation … Gitcho, who would go on to help run Hawley’s Senate campaign, gave instructions about how the day should proceed, even going so far as to lay out what Hawley should wear when addressing the media. ‘Josh should be wearing some sort of law enforcement garb,’ the document said, ‘like a police jacket and hat.’ On the day of the raid, Hawley wore a badge and lanyard.”

-- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) will probably join the House Financial Services Committee, allowing her a perch to take on Wall Street and its influence on Washington. Politico’s Zachary Warmbrodt reports: “The assignment, which lawmakers say they expect her to receive, would pit the 29-year-old New Yorker not only against banks that make up a major local industry but also potentially against business-friendly Democrats who have backed financial deregulation. Some moderate Democrats have privately raised concerns that they’ll be targeted by the former bartender-turned-progressive icon, whose willingness to challenge her party’s establishment propelled her to Congress and the national spotlight.”

-- Ocasio-Cortez’s tactics are already creating friction with her Democratic colleagues. Politico’s Rachael Bade and Heather Caygle report: “Some lawmakers with ties to Ocasio-Cortez are hoping to coax her into using her star power to unite Democrats and turn her fire on Republicans. Others simultaneously warn Ocasio-Cortez is destined for a lonely, ineffectual career in Congress if she continues to treat her own party as the enemy. … Incumbent Democrats are most annoyed by Ocasio-Cortez’s threat to back primary opponents against members of their ranks she deems too moderate.”

-- Former congressman Blake Farenthold, who left office amid sexual harassment allegations, resigned from his role as a lobbyist for the Calhoun Port Authority. The Victoria Advocate’s Ciara McCarthy reports: “Farenthold submitted his resignation to the port board in a letter dated Jan. 4, but it was announced by executive director Charles Hausmann during Thursday morning’s board meeting. Board members did not comment about the resignation. Hausmann said only that Farenthold left ‘to pursue other opportunities.’ … The board hired Farenthold in May to be its first full-time legislative liaison at an annual salary of $160,000. After news of the hiring became public, the port endured intense local, state and national criticism for hiring a congressman who had stepped down amid an ethics investigation.”

2020 WATCH — THE SENATE EDITION:

-- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) once again apologized to staffers from his 2016 presidential campaign who said they were sexually harassed by co-workers. David Weigel and Felicia Sonmez report: “On Thursday morning, after Politico reported that Sanders’s former Iowa campaign manager Robert Becker had been named in a $30,000 federal discrimination settlement with two former employees, Sanders told reporters that he thanked the women ‘from the bottom of my heart for speaking out’ and formally apologized to them. … Sanders said that his 2018 Senate reelection campaign in Vermont had operated under ‘some of the strongest sexual harassment policies in the country’ and that he had not been aware of the $30,000 settlement.”

-- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is considering basing her potential 2020 campaign in the small upstate city of Troy, N.Y. The AP’s Juana Summers and Julie Pace report: “The search for a headquarters is the strongest signal yet that the New York senator will soon enter a presidential race that could ultimately draw dozens of candidates. The selection of Troy, 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Manhattan, could allow Gillibrand to highlight her roots in Upstate New York, where she was born and later represented in Congress before being appointed to the Senate.” Gillibrand is planning a trip to Iowa next weekend as she seeks on-the-ground staffers there. 

-- Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is also headed to Iowa in the coming weeks as his chief of staff ramps up preparations for a possible presidential campaign. Politico’s Daniel Strauss reports: “Going to Iowa would be the latest signal from Brown and his wife, Connie Schultz, that he is considering a White House run organized around the ‘dignity of work,’ the theme of his reelection campaign last year. But preparations go beyond public statements as Brown’s longtime aide and current chief of staff, Sarah Benzing works backstage to set up a campaign — with a particular focus on Iowa, where she grew up and worked on a series of congressional, Senate and presidential efforts earlier in her career. … She has spent the weeks since Brown's reelection to the Senate … calling her Iowa network, seeking advice and operatives to staff a Brown presidential bid.”

-- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is starting to craft her personal message on her book tour as she prepares for a likely 2020 announcement. From Chelsea Janes: “In her book and on her tour, Harris is introducing herself as a candidate of nuance, a child of immigrants, a woman of color, capable of bridging the cracks in the country’s foundation because she has seen their effects firsthand. … But Harris was not only defining her racial identity this week but also her atypical path as a politician. She acknowledged questions might arise over her choice to become a prosecutor, as San Francisco district attorney and then as the state attorney general. … As she has for much of her career, she went out of her way to avoid alienating elements of the party.”

THE REST OF THE AGENDA:

-- The West Wing is gearing up for another possible Supreme Court confirmation battle if Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s health takes a turn for the worse. Politico’s Eliana Johnson and Gabby Orr report: “The outreach began after Ginsburg, 85, on Monday missed oral arguments at the court for the first time in her 25 years on the bench. … The White House ‘is taking the temperature on possible short-list candidates, reaching out to key stakeholders, and just making sure that people are informed on the process,’ said a source familiar with those conversations, who spoke on background given the delicate nature of the subject. ‘They're doing it very quietly, of course, because the idea is not to be opportunistic, but just to be prepared so we aren't caught flat-footed.’”

-- The White House took the unusual step in 2017 of requesting a meeting with a senior DOJ official about a case involving casino magnate Steve Wynn, a top Trump donor. The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein, Lachlan Markay and Betsy Woodruff report: Wynn “was embroiled in litigation involving Obama-era rules governing how companies could distribute tips gathered by their employees. Months after the meeting request, the Trump administration revised those rules to make them far friendlier to employers. … Top legal officials of past administrations said it was not uncommon for White House officials to meet with the solicitor general or top DoJ officials to discuss pending business before the courts. But the email still struck legal ethicists as problematic, as it showed the Trump White House eager to keep tabs on litigation directly affecting one of the president’s highest-profile donors.”

-- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech in Cairo on the Middle East notable for its harsh criticism of Obama’s foreign policy. The New York Times’s Declan Walsh and David E. Sanger report: “Mr. Pompeo’s prescription was short on specifics, beyond bolstering alliances with Arab autocrats loyal to Washington. Instead he painted a picture of a Middle East cast into chaos by [Obama], and that can only be rescued by crushing Iran. … In an unusually explicit and personal attack on a former president’s foreign policy, a decade after Mr. Obama delivered a landmark speech at another Cairo university, Mr. Pompeo excoriated Mr. Obama for ‘fundamental misunderstandings’ about the region that ‘underestimated the tenacity and viciousness of radical Islamism.’”

-- Some former diplomats and Middle East experts panned Pompeo’s speech as “tone-deaf” and “offensive.” Gerald Feierstein, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, said the speech “was a regurgitation of what they have been saying for two years. … That they think that anyone still wants to hear about Barack Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech — get over it. … People want to know what you are going to do, not what you think Barack Obama did wrong. And on that score, there was nothing there.” (Al-Monitor)

-- Pompeo also praised Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who has been criticized by some as a military dictator, the same day that Trump disparaged Democratic leadership as worse than China’s Communist Party bosses. The New York Times’s Mark Landler reports: “‘I find China, frankly, in many ways to be far more honorable than Cryin’ Chuck and Nancy. I really do,’ Mr. Trump said … ‘China is actually much easier to deal with than the opposition party.’ … Mr. Trump’s affinity for strongmen is well established, as is his contempt for his predecessor and his habit of gleefully ridiculing opponents, regardless of their party affiliation. But rarely has the Trump administration offered such a striking display of embracing autocrats as friends and painting those at home with whom it disagrees as enemies.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump reiterated his claim that Mexico would pay for the wall through a renegotiated trade deal that has not yet been approved by Congress, an assertion that has won Four Pinocchios from The Fact Checker:

Trump also announced he would not attend the World Economic Forum in Davos because of the shutdown:

The House speaker pinned the blame for the shutdown on Republicans:

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) urged lawmakers to stay in town to reopen the government:

One of Trump's closest congressional allies endorsed his proposal to declare a national emergency to get wall funding:

A former chief speechwriter in the Obama White House replied:

A former South Carolina Democratic legislator added this:

A House Democrat poked fun at Trump's false claim that he never said Mexico would directly pay for a wall:

A Democratic senator expressed dismay over how his federal employee constituents are suffering:

The Daily Beast's Washington bureau chief noted the dedication of air traffic controllers:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said furloughed workers do not want Democrats to "legitimize" Trump's tactics, per a Bloomberg News reporter:

A Senate Republican tweeted a photo of a prop from Trump's trip to the border:

The Toronto Star's Washington correspondent corrected a Trump tweet about border crossings:

Trump mocked Jim Acosta's reporting from the border:

The president's son also mocked the CNN reporter, leading to a caustic back-and-forth between the two:

A Fox News host stayed close to the Trump team while joining Trump's border visit:

Beto O'Rourke chose an unusual venue for his Instagram story about living along the border:

A Guardian reporter retorted:

The Post honored its late contributing columnist:

The House Intelligence Committee chairman reflected on Khashoggi's legacy:

From a conservative co-host of "The View":

And a presidential historian shared an old comic featuring JFK — from an era when people trusted their presidents:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- New York Times, “Juul’s Convenient Smoke Screen,” by Kevin Roose: “Juul Labs, the company behind the insanely popular vaping device, has a message for the nation’s estimated 37.8 million adult smokers: It really, really, really cares about them. And it wants them (and only them — got that, teens?) to try vaping instead. … This benevolent-sounding mission — helping nicotine-addicted adult smokers switch to something far less likely to kill them — is Juul’s new pitch, and the way it hopes to rehabilitate its image as one of Silicon Valley’s most problematic start-ups.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Tarrant County GOP’s vice-chairman survives recall vote over his religion,” from the Texas Tribune: “Shahid Shafi will retain his role as vice-chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party despite a push from a small faction of precinct chairs to remove him from his post because he's Muslim. … Those who were in favor of Shafi's removal said he's unequipped to be vice-chairman because he doesn’t represent all Tarrant County Republicans due to his religion. They've also said Islamic ideologies run counter to the U.S. Constitution — an assertion many Texas GOP officials have called bigoted and Shafi himself has vehemently denied.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Q13 Fox staffer fired after TV station airs altered Trump video,” from the Seattle Times: “A staffer at local Fox affiliate Q13 has been fired after the station aired what appears to be a doctored video of President Donald Trump’s Tuesday night speech from the Oval Office. The video was changed to make it look as if Trump was sticking his tongue out languidly between sentences. In addition, the colors in the video look more saturated, leading the president’s skin and hair to appear orange. … In the video broadcast on Q13, it appears that Trump lets his tongue hang out, resting it on his lower lip for an unusually long time.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will host a roundtable on border security with state, local and community leaders.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Trump was asked whether the buck stops with him on ending the shutdown. He replied, “The buck stops with everybody.” (MSNBC)

 

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

-- It will be sunny but windy in Washington today, with snow expected to start falling tomorrow. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Wind chills in the teens are possible during earlier morning hours. Please bundle up, and don’t let fairly abundant sunshine fool you. High temperatures probably only hit the mid-30s to about 40. Northwest winds could be gustiest midday, nearing 20 mph or so, before waning around sunset. This air is super dry, so grab that lip balm and moisturizer.”

-- The Capitals beat the Bruins 4-2. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- Maryland lawmakers were stricken by the news that state Senate President Mike Miller has metastasized prostate cancer. Ovetta Wiggins, Jennifer Barrios and Arelis R. Hernández report: “Independent medical experts said such cancer is not curable but can be contained through treatment, sometimes for years. Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who publicly battled cancer himself three years ago, sent ‘heartfelt prayers’ to his longtime friend and sometime nemesis ‘on what I know must be one of the toughest days he’s faced.’ Miller teared up while going over basic procedures in the Senate chamber, and again at a panel discussion on economic development. He then got a pat on the back and a private word of comfort from House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who survived a liver transplant in 2017 and heart bypass surgery last year.”

-- An Arlington school board unanimously voted to rename Washington-Lee High to Washington-Liberty High. Debbie Truong reports: “The school board in Arlington voted unanimously to rename Washington-Lee High, adopting the second-place choice put forth by a renaming committee that included students and graduates. … The committee’s first choice, Washington-Loving, failed to receive support from a majority of the school board. That name would have honored the Virginia couple who successfully challenged the state’s ban on interracial marriage.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Jimmy Kimmel mocked Trump's claim that he doesn't have temper tantrums:

Trevor Noah sent a correspondent to cover a protest by furloughed government workers:

The Fact Checker weighed Sen. Elizabeth Warren's claims about the minimum wage being able to support a family of three in the 1960s:

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whom many have criticized as a dictator, was sworn in for a second term:

And Meghan Markle visited a charity benefiting unemployed women that she announced she will champion: