with Joanie Greve

With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump was confused Monday morning about which city he was flying to. “Getting ready to address the Farm Convention today in Nashville, Tennessee,” he tweeted. “Love our farmers, love Tennessee - a great combination! See you in a little while.”

The president was flying to see farmers, all right, but they were in New Orleans. So Trump deleted the tweet and posted another. “I will try and match the great game played yesterday by the New Orleans Saints and their incredible QB, Drew Brees,” he wrote, playing to the local crowd. “People here are very excited by the team.”

This is the kind of mistake rock stars and politicians make from time to time when they’re on tour and the cities they’re visiting start to blend and blur together. It’s a dizzying experience few everyday Americans have. Presidents, though, aren’t regular people.

In American culture, however, many want their leaders to be as relatable as possible and to make a show of understanding how they live. That’s why it’s become such a cliche in political journalism to write about which candidate voters want to have a beer with.

Trump’s approach to Monday neatly illustrated his efforts to thread the needle between the populist public image he’s crafted as a sort of self-made everyman and the plutocratic reality of his inherited fortune and the policies he’s pursued as president.

-- Addressing the farmers in the Big Easy, Trump said he asks the drivers of his limousine to slow down so that he can keep track of what average people are paying for gas. “I’m riding in this incredible car, and I’m driving and I’m looking at gas stations to see how much is the gas,” Trump said. “I’m in The Beast, the world’s most expensive car. It’s like being in an Army tank that goes 50 miles per hour, right? I’m in The Beast, and I’m looking at gas stations. And I say, 'Fellas, slow up! I can’t see.' I say, '$1.75!' That didn’t happen by accident, folks!” More than two years after the election, the president finished with a dig at his 2016 opponent. “You think Hillary Clinton would have done that? I don’t think so,” he said.

In fact, Trump saying he monitors gas prices from the comfort of his motorcade feels like exactly the kind of gaffe pundits would have skewered Hillary Clinton for had she said it. Recall how much people, including Democrats, made fun of her when she noted during a paid speech to auto dealers in 2014 that she had not driven a car since 1996. In this case, Trump’s comments about gas prices didn’t even make it into most accounts of the hour-long speech.

The gas prices riff, which the friendly crowd loved, was peak Trump. When prices were high last year, and nonpartisan analysts said his sanctions on Iran were a major factor, the president said he bore no responsibility. Now that they’re falling, he claims all the credit. We’ve seen the same routine, in reverse, with the stock market. As John F. Kennedy once put it, victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.

Fittingly, it appears that gas prices might have been top of mind for the president not so much because he passed a service station than because he saw a segment that morning on “Fox & Friends.” Trump live-tweeted a direct quote in the 7 a.m. hour from Fox Business host Stuart Varney that attributed falling gas prices to his deregulation of the energy industry. He then quipped facetiously in the tweet, “But this is bad news for Russia, why would President Trump do such a thing? Thought he worked for Kremlin?”

-- After speaking in New Orleans, Trump flew back to Washington to welcome the Clemson football team for a reception at the White House to celebrate its national college championship. In a photo op for the ages, the president spoke from behind a table covered with fast food. There were burgers and fries from McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King, plus pizzas from Domino’s.

Still wearing his black overcoat, Trump said he paid for the food out of pocket because the White House catering staff has been furloughed by the shutdown. When a reporter asked whether he prefers McDonalds or Wendy’s, Trump said: “I like them all. If it’s American, I like it. It’s all American stuff. But it’s good stuff.”

The military band then played a rendition of the Michael Jackson hit “Billie Jean” as the players dug into the spread. Some of the Clemson guys “whooped” when they came into the room, according to a pool report. Trump told them they might not have gotten food at all because of the shutdown. He said there had also been discussion about whether to have first lady Melania Trump and second lady Karen Pence “make some salads.”

“And I said, ‘You guys aren’t into salads,’” Trump said. “We have everything that I like, that you like.”

Politicians of both parties have often used fast food as a prop to appear more relatable. When Clinton stopped at Chipotle during her road trip from New York to Iowa in 2015, CBS News posted a slide show with pictures of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, John McCain, John Kerry and Bill Clinton making stops at fast food joints with cameras in tow. (I vividly remember covering Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan when they stopped for lunch together at a Wendy’s in Ohio on Election Day in 2012, and Romney would come to the back of his campaign plane to hand out fries for the benefit of camera operators seeking fresh footage.)

-- But the scene at the White House was notable because Trump has made an extra effort during the 25-day-old shutdown to sound sympathetic about those who are impacted. As he prepared to board a helicopter to fly to Camp David the Sunday before last, a reporter wondered whether the president feels “the pain of federal workers who can’t pay their bills.”

“I can relate,” he replied. “I’m sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do. People understand exactly what’s going on. But many of those people who won’t be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I am doing.”

Asked about federal workers who won’t be able to pay their rent this month, Trump said on Jan. 4 that landlords will “work with” their tenants to reach accommodations. “I’ve been a landlord for a long time,” he said in the Rose Garden. “I’ve been in the real estate business for a long time. When you see their problems out there, their difficulties out there, you know, the people are all good for the money. They work with people.” (Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded after Trump walked out of a negotiating session that most federal workers cannot go ask their dads for money.)

-- Trump, who says he’s a billionaire but will not release his tax returns, has unwittingly appeared out of touch several times during his presidency. Making the case for strict voter ID laws during a rally in Tampa last summer, for instance, Trump claimed that it is harder to buy groceries than to cast a ballot. “If you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card, you need ID,” Trump said. (You don’t.) The next day, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said she was “not sure” when Trump last went to a supermarket.

-- Only 32 percent of Americans said they view Trump favorably “as a person” in a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last April, eight points lower than his job approval rating at the time. That was the last time this question was posed. It tied the low mark on personal favorability that Bill Clinton had hit in 1999 to 2000 after the revelations of his misconduct toward Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office.

In a separate Post-ABC poll taken in November 2017, 37 percent of Americans said they think Trump understands the problems of people like them while 62 percent said he does not. In the paper’s final survey conducted before the 2016 election, 48 percent of likely voters said Clinton better understood the problems of “people like you,” and 41 percent picked Trump. Clinton won the popular vote, but Trump became president because he prevailed in the electoral college.

-- Every president, no matter their personal wealth before taking office, struggles to show the American people that they get it. Especially from the isolation of the White House and the security bubble imposed by the Secret Service. During his first term, Obama’s political team deployed him to meet with regular folks in their backyards in a bid to show he understood the fallout of the Great Recession. In his second term, the president made unscheduled departures to go buy a sandwich at places like Taylor Gourmet or to walk around the Mall. “The bear is loose,” Obama joked during one such outing in 2014. “He broke out of the cage.” (Speaking at an Iowa forum on rural issues as a candidate in 2007, Obama looked out of touch when he marveled at the high cost of arugula.)

-- On Saturday night, Trump phoned into Jeanine Pirro’s television show on Fox News to emphasize that he hasn’t vacationed during the shutdown and to criticize members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for visiting Puerto Rico. “I like the symbol of me being here and them being at some play in a nice location having a good time,” Trump said, adding, “I haven’t actually left the White House in months.” (He later clarified that he indeed has.)

You might recall that the last time Trump went to Puerto Rico, after a hurricane, he was criticized for tossing rolls of paper towels into a crowd seeking help at a supply distribution point.

-- Trump has routinely struggled to show empathy in the aftermath of natural disasters. Visiting North Carolina this past September to survey the damage of Hurricane Florence, Trump fixated on a yacht that had washed up on someone else’s lawn. “Is this your boat? Or … did it become your boat?” Trump asked the homeowner. “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal,” he said, smiling. He mentioned the boat again. Later, a reporter asked to reflect on what he’d seen in the affected area. “They don’t know whose boat that is,” he responded. “What’s the law? Maybe it becomes theirs.”

In Texas after Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, Trump talked about the size of the crowd there to see him. “What a turnout,” he said.

-- Last June, Trump was flying to Houston to meet people who had just lost loved ones in a mass shooting. “We’re going to have a little fun today,” the president told reporters on Air Force One. The visit itself didn’t go well. From the AP’s dispatch that day: “Rhonda Hart, whose 14-year-old daughter, Kimberly Vaughan, was killed at the school, (said) that Trump repeatedly used the word ‘wacky’ to describe the shooter and the trench coat he wore. She said she told Trump, ‘Maybe if everyone had access to mental health care, we wouldn’t be in the situation.’ Hart, an Army veteran, said she also suggested employing veterans as sentinels in schools. She said Trump responded, ‘And arm them?’ She replied, ‘No,’ but said Trump ‘kept mentioning’ arming classroom teachers. ‘It was like talking to a toddler,’ Hart said.”

After the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., Trump called Samantha Fuentes, a student who had been wounded. “He didn’t make me feel better in the slightest,” she said afterward.

A few days later, Trump hosted a listening session at the White House with students, parents and teachers who had suffered because of gun violence. The president held a notecard with talking points, including the phrase: “I hear you.”

-- Next month’s issue of the Atlantic magazine includes 50 short essays about “unthinkable” moments from Trump’s first two years in power. James Fallows, a speechwriter in Jimmy Carter’s White House, focuses on how the president has proved incapable of soothing a wounded nation: “His callous, tweeted response to the deaths of nearly 50 people in the gun massacre at an Orlando nightclub when he was still campaigning for president—which began, ‘Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism’—prefigured the way he would respond to tragedies when he took office. … After the deadliest gun massacre in American history, when one murderer in a hotel tower killed some 59 people and wounded hundreds in Las Vegas, Trump breezily said, ‘Look, we have a tragedy. [But] what happened is, in many ways, a miracle. The police department, they’ve done such an incredible job.’”

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-- House Republican leaders voted to strip Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) of his committee assignments after the congressman questioned how the term “white supremacist” came to be considered offensive. Mike DeBonis reports: “House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the decision by the Republican Steering Committee, which seats lawmakers on House committees, followed his own recommendation and was meant to send a message about the GOP at large. ‘That is not the party of Lincoln,’ he said of King’s comments. ‘It is definitely not American. All people are created equal in America, and we want to take a very strong stance about that.’ King, who was elected to a ninth term in November, served on the House Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business committees in the last Congress.

The decision to effectively strip him of those posts came as House Democrats pondered rebukes of their own and as leading Republicans across the party spoke out against him. On Monday, [Mitch McConnell] said there is ‘no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind,’ while Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a former presidential nominee, called on King to resign. … King, in a statement, said, ‘Leader McCarthy’s decision to remove me from committees is a political decision that ignores the truth. … Ultimately, I told him, “You have to do what you have to do, and I will do what I have to do.”’ …

House Democrats could bring up a measure condemning King as soon as Tuesday. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the party’s No. 3 leader, on Monday said he would introduce a resolution to express ‘disapproval of Mr. King’s comments and condemnation of white nationalism and white supremacy in all forms.’ … But for some Democrats, Clyburn’s reproach of King — which would be similar to the action taken against Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) after he shouted ‘you lie’ at President Barack Obama during a September 2009 speech on health care — did not go far enough. … Two Democrats — Reps. Bobby L. Rush (Ill.) and Tim Ryan (Ohio) — separately filed resolutions to censure King and indicated they would force a vote on them this week.”

Trump dismissed questions about King … ‘Who?’ Trump responded. When a reporter clarified, Trump responded: ‘I haven’t been following.’ When asked about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) calling him a ‘racist,’ Trump dismissed the question, saying, ‘Who cares?’”

-- King’s comments, combined with Trump’s latest offensive tweets about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s claims of Native American ancestry, demonstrated how the GOP continues to stir up race-related controversies, Seung Min Kim and Mike DeBonis note. “‘It is a challenge for us,’ Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said of the GOP and race. Calling King’s remarks ‘foolish’ and ‘very insensitive,’ Rounds added: ‘I think these types of examples hurt us.’ Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), vice chair of the House Republican conference, said he was offended by King’s comments, ‘not even just by the words, but even the tone.’ … [Trump’s] tweet drew a rebuke from the GOP senators who represent South Dakota, as well as a harsh condemnation from the National Congress of American Indians, which denounced Trump’s tweet in the ‘strongest possible terms.’ … In an interview, Rounds said of Trump’s tweet: ‘I do not think he gains any points by using the site of that atrocity in a political speech or a tweet. So I think maybe he should reconsider using that one in the future. That’s not appropriate.’” John Thune, now the No. 2 in Senate GOP leadership, echoed this.

-- The Justice Department issued an opinion that could further restrict online gambling, a move sought by GOP megadonor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Tom Hamburger, Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey report: “The opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which will probably be tested in the courts, reversed an Obama-era opinion that declared that the Wire Act applied only to sports gambling. A medley of state and federal laws, including the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, already make most online gambling illegal. But Justice Department prosecutors will soon be able to use the Wire Act, in addition to those other laws, to bring cases against online gambling operations. … The new legal opinion was greeted with dismay by many in the gambling industry, who fear that the interpretation will limit the growth of the online betting industry across states. Curtailing such online gambling ventures has been a major goal of Adelson, who with his allies has argued that Web-based gambling would hurt children, invite criminal activity and produce little actual revenue for states.”

-- Ivanka Trump will play a role in selecting the new World Bank president. The New York Times’s Annie Karni reports: “Ms. Trump, who had been rumored to be a contender for the position herself, will not be a candidate, a Trump administration official said. But she will assist the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, in choosing a successor to Jim Yong Kim, the current president of the World Bank who announced last week he would be stepping down. Mr. Mnuchin called Ms. Trump last week and asked her if she would be involved, an administration official said.”


  1. The Antarctic is losing six times as much ice per year as it was during the 1980s, which means that sea levels could rise more quickly than researchers previously predicted. The Antarctic lost 40 billion tons of melting ice to the ocean each year from 1979 to 1989. That figure rose to 252 billion tons per year beginning in 2009, according to a study published Monday. (Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis)

  2. A federal judge in Pennsylvania issued a nationwide preliminary injunction on the Trump administration’s rollback of Obamacare’s birth-control mandate. The ruling came a day after a California judge issued a more limited preliminary injunction against the rules, which would allow more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to female employees. (Amy Goldstein)

  3. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will travel to Canada to have hernia surgery. Paul’s decision to seek medical care outside the United States attracted some criticism, given the senator’s strident opposition to universal health care. A Paul spokesman emphasized the hospital where the surgery will be performed is privately run but did not respond to a question about why he is traveling to Canada for the procedure. (Felicia Sonmez)

  4. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) became the first African American and first woman to lead the House Financial Services Committee. She is expected to detail her plans for the committee tomorrow, but her leadership is already causing anxiety on Wall Street, where there are fears she could slow the deregulation efforts of the Trump administration. (Renae Merle)

  5. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “Now that I have begun treatment, I feel hopeful about survival and about my ability to continue serving my constituents of Florida’s 20th Congressional district and the nation,” he said in a statement. (Felicia Sonmez)

  6. The New York state legislature passed several bills aimed at overhauling the state’s system of voting and elections. The bills would allow early voting, preregistration of minors and voting by mail — bringing New York in line with other Democratic strongholds. (New York Times)

  7. The chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced that the remnants of the Confederate monument “Silent Sam” would be removed from campus — and that she would step down. The dual announcement caps several months of heated debate at the university since the statue was torn down by protesters who argued it was a racist homage to the Confederacy. (Susan Svrluga)

  8. Protesters took to the streets in Zimbabwe after the country’s president announced a 140 percent increase in fuel prices just before boarding a private jet to Russia. The new price of $12.53 a gallon makes Zimbabwe by far the world’s most expensive country for fuel and continues the economic mismanagement begun under former president Robert Mugabe. (Max Bearak)

  9. Authorities in Wisconsin say Jake Patterson decided to kidnap Jayme Closs from her family home after seeing the 13-year-old girl at a bus stop. Prosecutors released a criminal complaint detailing the allegations against Patterson as he appeared in court for the first time yesterday. (Alexandra Baumhardt, Eli Rosenberg and Lindsey Bever)


-- Trump’s opposition to a compromise on border wall funding has left negotiations at a standstill as the government approaches the one-month mark of the shutdown. Robert Costa, Sean Sullivan and Erica Werner report: “‘I did reject it,’ Trump told reporters, when asked about a suggestion by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) to temporarily reopen the government while continuing negotiations over money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. ‘I’m not interested.’ … The political cost of the shutdown is mounting as more than 800,000 federal workers miss their paychecks and as a new nonpartisan poll shows that nearly 2 out of 3 American voters support reopening the government and do not back Trump’s hard-line demand of $5.7 billion for a portion of the border wall. Worries were on the rise Monday. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), for example, said he is concerned about the operation of fisheries in his state and is ‘focused on minimizing the impact of the shutdown’ — a message that was echoed by other GOP senators as they returned to Washington.

“The acrimony between Trump and congressional leaders prompted a bipartisan group of rank-and-file senators — including Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) — to meet late Monday afternoon in fresh pursuit of an agreement. But allies of [McConnell] were skeptical about the group’s chances of crafting a deal that could win the president’s support and pass the GOP-controlled Senate. And they said McConnell does not yet feel pressure to break from Trump’s position, despite the growing cracks in Republican ranks, particularly among more centrist lawmakers. … After the meeting, Manchin offered a downbeat assessment: ‘I sat there for an hour and didn’t know what the hell it was about.’”

-- One reason Trump may not feel pressure to compromise: Some of his allies and supporters want a smaller federal government. Lisa Rein, Robert Costa and Danielle Paquette report: “Prominent advisers to the president have forged their political careers in relentless pursuit of a lean federal budget and a reined-in bureaucracy. As a result, they have shown a high tolerance for keeping large swaths of the government dark … Those encouraging a hard line include acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and acting White House budget director Russell T. Vought, as well as leaders of the House Freedom Caucus, whose members have taken on an influential role with the White House."

-- That said, a legal battle over an old real estate deal is threatening Mulvaney’s fiscal hawk reputation as he helps Trump navigate the shutdown. Charles Fonville Sr., a businessman from Mulvaney's home state of South Carolina, claims he is owed $2.5 million from the failed deal. Michael Kranish reports: “Fonville’s company has filed a claim in a South Carolina court against two companies in which Mulvaney has an ownership stake, accusing them of ‘intent to deceive,’ ‘fraudulent acts’ and ‘breach of contract’ to avoid repayment. The heart of Fonville’s allegation: When a new Mulvaney-linked company was formed and sought to foreclose on the first company Mulvaney co-owned, it was a maneuver to avoid paying the debt owed to Fonville. In court filings, the Mulvaney-connected companies denied the allegations and asked that Fonville & Co.’s claim be dismissed. But a judge said the case should go forward. No trial date has been set.”

-- Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced an extension of its mission along the border. Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe report: “Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan approved a request to provide the Department of Homeland Security with assistance though Sept. 30, 2019. Previously, the deployment of active duty forces along the border, which Trump ordered before the November midterm elections, was due to end Jan. 31. … It was not immediately clear how many additional troops the extended mission might require. … Currently the Pentagon has about 2,300 active-duty troops on the southern border assisting the Department of Homeland Security, down from a height of 5,900.”

-- The FDA will restart food safety inspections at facilities that handle higher-risk food. Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich reports: “Under the agency's initial shutdown plan, most routine food safety inspections were halted. … With the partial government shutdown now in its 24th day, FDA is beginning to roll out a longer-term contingency plan to increase so-called excepted activities, such as routine inspections of high-risk food facilities.”


-- In advance of his confirmation hearing today before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Trump attorney general nominee William Barr vowed in written testimony to let special counsel Bob Mueller finish his investigation, adding it was “very important” to inform Congress and the public of the results. Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report: “Barr said it would be his goal to ‘provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law’ about the results of the investigation, though he offered no specific commitments about what would become public or be turned over to Congress. … Barr vowed to maintain the Justice Department’s independence and said that [Trump] ‘sought no assurances, promises, or commitments from me of any kind, either express or implied, and I have not given him any, other than that I would run the Department with professionalism and integrity.’ … Barr said it was ‘vitally important that the Special Counsel be allowed to complete his investigation.’ He said he had confidence that Mueller, whom he considers a friend, will handle the matter properly.”

-- But, but, but: Barr acknowledged in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham that he shared a memo criticizing Mueller’s investigation with nearly all of Trump’s attorneys. CNN’s Ariane de Vogue reports: “Barr's 19-page memo — which concluded that Trump's publicly reported interactions with ex-FBI Director James Comey could not constitute obstruction of justice — was addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General Steve Engel and released as a part of Barr's Senate questionnaire last month. But it was previously unclear who else had seen it. In a letter to [Graham] Monday night, Barr said that he had sent it to White House special counsel Emmet Flood, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, and his former Justice Department colleague Pat Cipollone who is now White House counsel. He also discussed the issues raised in the memo with Trump lawyers Marty and Jane Raskin and Jay Sekulow. In addition he sent a copy, or had a conversation about the contents of the memo with Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Jared Kushner.”

-- Barr previously warned that the DOJ may be in need of “political supervision.” NBC News’s Josh Lederman reports: Barr “told an interviewer during compilation of an oral history of the George H.W. Bush administration in 2001 that ‘the idea that the Department of Justice has to be independent’ had gained ground following the Watergate scandal and risked going too far. Barr had served as the first President Bush's attorney general from 1991 to 1993 and warned that it was ‘very destructive to personal liberty’ to discourage political officials from reviewing specific cases pursued by the Justice Department. ‘I have come to feel that political supervision of the Department is very important. Politically responsible people,’ Barr said. ‘Someone ultimately has to answer to the political process.’”

-- Three Democrats who will question Barr today are likely to run for president. Keep an eye on Cory Booker (N.J.), Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.).

-- The Supreme Court denied cert on a case challenging Matt Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general. Robert Barnes reports: “Washington lawyer and Supreme Court practitioner Thomas C. Goldstein has intervened in cases in Nevada and Maryland to say that [Trump] did not have the legal authority to appoint Whitaker, who had been chief of staff to Jeff Sessions when Trump forced out his attorney general in November. The justices denied the Nevada case and its attempt to substitute Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein for Whitaker. The Maryland case is still before a federal judge there.”

-- Raising more questions about Trump’s coziness with Russia, the president has repeatedly pushed the idea privately of withdrawing the United States from NATO — a drastic move that would hand Vladimir Putin the biggest political victory of his career. The New York Times’s Julian E. Barnes and Helene Cooper report: “Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set. In the days around a tumultuous NATO summit meeting last summer, they said, Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.

“At the time, Mr. Trump’s national security team, including Jim Mattis, then the defense secretary, and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, scrambled to keep American strategy on track without mention of a withdrawal that would drastically reduce Washington’s influence in Europe and could embolden Russia for decades. Now, the president’s repeatedly stated desire to withdraw from NATO is raising new worries among national security officials amid growing concern about Mr. Trump’s efforts to keep his meetings with Mr. Putin secret from even his own aides, and an F.B.I. investigation into the administration’s Russia ties.”

-- Trump’s legal team rejected a recent request from Mueller’s prosecutors for the president to sit for an interview to answer follow-up questions about the written answers his attorneys submitted. CNN’s Pamela Brown, Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz report: “An interview with the President remains an outstanding issue even as Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani said [that would happen] ‘over my dead body.’ One source familiar with the matter summed it up by saying, ‘Mueller is not satisfied.’ People familiar with the talks describe the two sides as at loggerheads, with no meaningful discussion about the issue in about five weeks. And the Trump team appears to have hardened its position. It's told the Mueller team that prosecutors have no cause to seek follow-up questions in person after the President's team submitted written responses to questions before Thanksgiving.”

-- Trump fervently denied working for Russia and criticized the FBI officials who investigated whether he did as “known scoundrels” and “dirty cops.” “I never worked for Russia,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for New Orleans. “Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it’s a disgrace that you even asked that question because it’s a whole big fat hoax. It’s just a hoax.” (John Wagner and Karoun Demirjian)

-- Many on the president's team are deploying the “non-denial denial” in defense of Trump on a wide variety of issues, Paul Farhi writes: “NDDs aren’t technically lies, but they are evasive and obfuscating. By seeming to dispute a statement without actually doing so, an NDD can raise doubts about the veracity of a damning statement. They have the added benefit of letting the non-denial denier off the hook if and when more facts emerge that confirm the original report. The denier, after all, never actually said the initial report was wrong, so he or she can’t be called on a blatant lie later.”

-- Conservative writer Jerome Corsi said Mueller has called his stepson to testify before a grand jury, probably about emails Corsi deleted from his computer that included exchanges with Roger Stone. Rosalind S. Helderman reports: “Corsi said in a Fox Business Network interview Monday night that his stepson, Andrew Stettner, had recently received a subpoena for his testimony. … The subpoena to Stettner indicates that a grand jury that’s hearing evidence in the special counsel investigation is apparently scheduled to convene with new witnesses for the first time in several weeks. It is also a sign that Mueller continues to dig into communications involving Corsi” and Stone.

-- Mueller and federal prosecutors in Manhattan are probing a 2017 event at Trump’s D.C. hotel attended by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Michael Flynn and foreign officials. The Daily Beast’s Erin Banco, Asawin Suebsaeng, Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman report: “The breakfast event, which was first reported by The Daily Sabah, a pro-government Turkish paper, took place at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. at 8.30 a.m. on Jan. 18, 2017—two days before [Trump’s] inauguration. About 60 people were invited, including diplomats from governments around the world, according to those same sources. The breakfast has come under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in Manhattan as part of their probe into whether the Trump inaugural committee misspent funds and if donors tried to buy influence in the White House.”

-- Newly obtained records show how Trump’s inaugural committee spent the more than $100 million it received from private donors. The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman, Sharon LaFraniere and Ben Protess report: “There was $10,000 for makeup for 20 aides at an evening inaugural event. There was another $30,000 in per diem payments to dozens of contract staff members, in addition to their fully covered hotel rooms, room service orders, plane tickets and taxi rides, including some to drop off laundry. The bill from the Trump International Hotel was more than $1.5 million. And there was a documentary, overseen by a close friend of Melania Trump’s, that was ultimately abandoned. … In 72 days, it laid out about $100 million, roughly twice as much or more than was raised by Barack Obama or George W. Bush for their first and second presidential inaugurations.”


Trump went on a tweetstorm this morning, posting more than a dozen missives. He offered this narrow compliment to law enforcement officials after his harsh comments about the FBI opening an investigation into his relationship with Russia:

He also insisted once again that only a wall will protect the southern border:

As more questions arise about Trump's relationship with Russia, Hillary Clinton recalled her own words during the 2016 campaign:

The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Democrat Adam Schiff, urged the Senate to reject Barr's nomination as attorney general:

The editor in chief of Lawfare considered this historical comparison:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) claimed Democrats were unwilling to compromise in shutdown negotiations:

And on the other side of the blame game, Chuck Schumer accused Trump of playing with people's lives:

A freshman House Democrat reminded her Twitter followers of the lives affected by the shutdown:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the plight of government workers and their families demonstrated the need for compromsie:

A Politico writer highlighted a particularly negative statistic for Trump from recent polling on the shutdown:

A Post reporter noted Trump's claims of violence against women to justify the wall are getting more detailed:

Trump asked audience members in New Orleans to sit down, per a Toronto Star reporter:

A former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reflected on the importance of discipline:

A Post reporter underscored one of Rep. Steve King's lost committee assignments:

From a Cox Radio reporter:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) reacted to Trump's apparent dismissal of her:

The Turkish president gave an update on his communication with Trump:

From a PBS NewsHour reporter:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo sidestepped a question about a fellow New York Democrat potentially running for president, per a New York Times reporter:

A Post reporter noted a "Hamilton" theme among political controversies: 

And the now-defunct Weekly Standard magazine got a special honor at a local D.C. bar:


-- Past supporters of the well-known conservative D.C. priest John McCloskey always wondered why he abruptly left the spotlight in 2003 — until now. The Catholic group Opus Dei has confirmed it ordered McCloskey to leave Washington after he was accused of sexually harassing a woman who came to him for spiritual counseling, Joe Heim reports: “A woman who had gone to him in 2002 for spiritual guidance told The Washington Post that the popular prelate had victimized her. On several occasions during and after private spiritual counseling sessions in his office to discuss her troubled marriage, he put his hands on her hips and pressed himself against her, kissed her hair and caressed her, the woman said. She said she had smelled alcohol on his breath. … Opus Dei paid the woman a $977,000 sexual misconduct settlement in 2005.

“For her, McCloskey’s actions were a deep and humiliating betrayal. ‘He absolutely radiated holiness and kindness and caring and charisma,’ the woman said Thursday in an interview. ‘He persuaded me that I needed to be hugged, which of course I did, but I needed to be hugged by my husband, not by him.’ … Another woman told Opus Dei that she was ‘made uncomfortable’ by the way McCloskey hugged her, the group told The Post. The community says it is investigating a third claim described by an Opus Dei spokesman as potentially serious. … McCloskey, 65, is once again living in the Washington area and has advanced Alzheimer’s disease, Opus Dei officials said.”

-- “Unlocking a kingdom’s long-hidden treasures,” by Kareem Fahim: “The vast desert ruins of Al-Ula inspire awe. But Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on dissidents and Jamal Khashoggi’s killing could make tourism a harder sell.”

-- New York Times, “Redefining Representation: The Women of the 116th Congress,” by Elizabeth D. Herman and Celeste Sloman: “Just over a century ago, Jeannette Rankin of Montana won a seat in the House of Representatives, becoming the first woman ever elected to federal office. In 1917, 128 years after the first United States Congress convened, she was sworn into its 65th session. One hundred and two years later, one has become 131 — the number of women serving in both chambers of the 116th Congress as of this month. … This portraits series documents the women of the 116th Congress in their totality. Like the work of Kehinde Wiley, who painted Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait, these photographs evoke the imagery we are used to seeing in the halls of power, but place people not previously seen as powerful starkly in the frames.”


“Trump’s DC Circuit Nominee — And Reported Supreme Court Contender — Wrote Inflammatory Op-Eds In College,” from BuzzFeed News: “Neomi Rao — [Trump’s] pick for a powerful federal judgeship and a reported US Supreme Court contender — wrote a string of op-eds in college and just after she graduated, at times using inflammatory language to discuss race, date rape, and LGBT rights. In pieces reviewed by BuzzFeed News that Rao wrote between 1994 and 1996 — she graduated from Yale University in 1995 — she described race as a ‘hot, money-making issue,’ affirmative action as the ‘anointed dragon of liberal excess,’ welfare as being for ‘for the indigent and lazy,’ and LGBT issues as part of ‘trendy’ political movements. On date rape, Rao wrote that if a woman ‘drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice.’”



“Joe Lieberman Called Chinese Telecom Giant ZTE a National Security Threat. Now He’s a Lobbyist for It,” from the Daily Beast: “Joseph Lieberman, the former Connecticut senator and Democratic vice presidential candidate, is working for a company he once called a national security threat. In November, Lieberman registered as a lobbyist for ZTE, a Chinese telecom giant with close links to the country’s government. The ex-senator told Politico that, despite his registration, he wouldn’t actually be lobbying for the firm. Rather, he hoped to ‘raise the level of trust in ZTE.’ Lieberman certainly should understand the trust deficit the company faces. In 2010, he signed a letter saying ZTE and another Chinese telecom company, Huawei, could threaten American national security. … Reached for comment, Lieberman told The Daily Beast that his past criticism of ZTE was actually an asset as he sought to improve the company’s image domestically.”



Trump will have lunch with members of Congress and then participate in a briefing call on border security with state and local leaders.


“He was playing second base, and it didn’t work out so well for him that day. But I have never seen anything with more strength and, really, more courage than Steve Scalise.” — Trump addressing the 2017 Alexandria shooting in his speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation. (Felicia Sonmez)



-- The sunshine in Washington will melt some of the city’s snow. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Some morning clouds are possible, but mostly sunny skies should prevail through the afternoon as temperatures return to the lower to middle 40s. Light winds blow from the northwest at 5 to 10 mph.” Federal offices are open today with a late arrival of up to two hours permitted.

-- The Capitals lost to the Blues 4-1. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- Celebrity chef José Andrés is launching a relief kitchen to feed Washington’s furloughed government workers. Tim Carman reports: “Practically, the free #ChefsforFeds kitchen will feed federal workers and their families during the partial government shutdown, now in its fourth week. … But on another level, the relief kitchen on Pennsylvania Avenue NW — the site is currently a test kitchen for the chef’s ThinkFoodGroup, which is donating the space for the cause — is a symbolic display designed to spark political dialogue to end the shutdown, which is in its 24th day. In a Twitter video announcing the D.C. initiative, Andrés said he hoped the kitchen would motivate the government to act.”

-- Jeb Bush will speak at Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s inauguration ceremony tomorrow. Ovetta Wiggins reports: “Bush — like Hogan a moderate Republican who has sharply criticized [Trump] — will introduce the governor after Hogan takes the oath of office inside the Senate chamber, becoming the first GOP governor to serve consecutive terms in Annapolis since 1959. Former Montgomery County executive Isiah Leggett, a Democrat whom Hogan cultivated as an ally during his first term, is also scheduled to speak in the afternoon ceremony on the State House’s lawn.”


Late-night hosts mocked the food Trump offered to Clemson's football team:

The Fact Checker compared the accounts of Trump and congressional leaders about what transpired in their White House meeting:

Tens of thousands of teachers went on strike in Los Angeles:

And new technology is allowing a visually impaired girl to prepare for her orthodox Jewish bat mitzvah: