With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA:

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The donor network led by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch will launch a new organization next month to focus on changing K-12 education as we know it.

The effort will begin as a pilot project focused on five states with a combined school-age population of 16 million kids, but officials said Monday that they aren’t ready to identify them yet because they’re still finalizing partnerships with some of the country’s leading educational organizations.

The still-unnamed entity purportedly plans to focus on three buckets: changing public policy to address “the root causes” of failing schools, developing new technologies to promote individualized learning, and investing in teachers and classrooms.

The announcement came Monday at the end of a three-day seminar where 634 donors who have each committed to contribute at least $100,000 annually to Koch-linked groups gathered under palm trees at a luxury resort in the Coachella Valley.

The Koch team is modeling its amped-up education efforts on its successful overhaul of the criminal justice system, which began in friendly states before moving to the federal level. In that case, Koch World sought out unlikely allies and played the long game for years before any big legislation passed.

In the past, most conversations about education at these twice-annual Koch confabs have quickly turned into bashing teachers unions. So it was notable when Brian Hooks, the chairman of the Koch network, went out of his way to praise teachers and acknowledge that many have been picketing recently.

“For too long, this issue has been framed unnecessarily as us vs. them, public vs. private, teacher vs. student, parent vs. administrator,” Hooks told a ballroom of donors. “The teachers who have expressed frustration in the past several months are good people. I mean, they’re teachers. We all remember the positive impact that a teacher or several teachers have had on our lives. They’re expressing legitimate concerns. But the current approach means that nobody wins, so they need better options.”

Hooks recognizes that many will question their motives, but he said the goal is to “really shake things up” by “coming alongside concerned teachers” to “find a better way.” Teachers union leaders, who are closely aligned with the Democratic Party, have accused the Koch groups of trying to undermine traditional public schools. Koch and his allies say the system is broken and requires wholesale changes. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been a longtime ally of the network.

“This is a tough one, no doubt,” Hooks said. “It’s a challenge that a whole lot of people look at and say is impossible. But we see a tremendous opportunity to unite people to help ensure that every kid has the opportunity to succeed.”

Philanthropist Stacy Hock of Austin, a major Koch donor who has been funding education efforts at the state level in Texas for years, says that traditional forms of classroom instruction encourage “soul-crushing” conformity, and she has emerged as an outspoken advocate of “personalized learning.”

“Families are getting more and more comfortable with experimenting and taking risks,” she said on the sidelines of the meeting. “Education should be getting way, way better and way, way cheaper, but the opposite is happening.”

Hock said the new Koch initiative, as it ramps up, will identify what’s working at the local level and push for those things to be replicated elsewhere. “What we’re seeing all across the country are little flames,” she said. “What I don’t yet know is how to throw gasoline on all those flames.”

-- The network’s pivot toward education is partly because a personal interest in the subject by Chase Koch, Charles’s 41-year-old son. He is an executive in the family business who has been taking on a more prominent role inside the network his dad began convening in 2003. Chase’s wife, Annie, a neonatal nurse by training, opened a private school in September called Wonder on the campus of Wichita State University. It’s initially for elementary-age children, and the plan is to phase in middle and high school programs. There’s lots of experimentation going on, with the goal of letting children pursue what interests them the most and not follow a strict curriculum.

-- Previewing their K-12 push, Koch strategists pointed to research being conducted with their financial support by Ashley Berner at Johns Hopkins University’s Institute for Education Policy. Her main interest is expanding what she calls “educational pluralism,” which is when the government funds all types of schools, including explicitly religious ones, but does not necessarily run them.

“Berner points to examples such as the Netherlands, which funds 36 different types of schools, from Islamic to Jewish Orthodox to socialist,” the Charles Koch Foundation notes in a summary of her work. “Alberta, Canada, funds homeschooling along with Inuit, Jewish, and secular schools. In Australia, the central government is the nation’s top funder of independent schools. Other countries with plural school systems include Denmark, Finland, Germany, and Sweden.”

“It’s the democratic norm around the world. In pluralism, choice and accountability are two sides of the same coin,” said Berner, who wrote a book in 2017 called “Pluralism and American Public Education: No One Way to School.” “We’ve got to start supporting politicians who are willing to make compromises. Americans are tired of the battles between charters and district schools; these take up too much energy and resources. A pluralistic system doesn’t pit entire sectors against one another.”

-- Koch will continue to make heavy investments in higher education as well. The Charles Koch Foundation already provides financial support to more than 350 colleges and universities, which has generated controversy and pushback on many campuses.

John Hardin, the director of university relations for the Koch Foundation, said the network’s investments in education “laid the intellectual foundation” to achieve the public policy changes the donors wanted on criminal justice. For example, the donors helped finance an Academy for Justice conference that convened 120 scholars on criminal justice to talk about their research. “This is how you get it done and change the paradigm,” Hardin told donors during a presentation. “The Academy for Justice is changing the debate.” 

A booklet provided to donors, which outlined some of the network’s major investments, highlighted support for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which produces research that is routinely cited by allies in government. “Mercatus scholars are re-shaping the field of regulatory economics and changing the debate over rightsizing the administrative state,” the handbook noted.

-- The Koch network is also setting its sights on publishers of pricey textbooks. The foundation, which is part of the network, is supporting OpenStax at Rice University, which produces books that are available for free online to students. Charles Koch put up the money for a series of textbooks about business, including ethics, entrepreneurship, principles of management and organizational behavior. David Harris, the editor in chief of the project, said in an interview that Koch gave his team full editorial independence, that the books are all peer-reviewed and that OpenStax receives financial support from liberal foundations, too, including the one funded by George Soros. About 30 free open-source texts are now available, and more are in the pipeline.

-- The goal of all this investment is to change “the trajectory of the country.” Kevin Gentry, a top Koch lieutenant who works for Koch Industries, told donors yesterday that they can have perhaps the greatest impact by focusing on civil society initiatives like these. “Those of you have been coming to these meetings for a long time know we’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “A lot of times we would say, ‘Okay, this was good, but were we really … changing the trajectory of the country?’ … We feel like a couple of years ago we began to turn the corner, but now is the opportunity to scale.”

-- One reason the wealthy donors are so amenable to investing so much in education is alarm about the next generation. Recent polling shows younger people have a more favorable impression of socialism than capitalism. “The younger generation is less sympathetic and less understanding of limited government conservatism,” said Art Pope of North Carolina, a fixture of Koch meetings. “They’re more sympathetic or more willing to give not just social justice but outright socialism a chance. … It used to be you didn’t have to have a serious conversation about socialism in American politics. Now you do. So what is the appeal of that? How do you message?”

-- Many progressives are dubious and skeptical of the Koch rebranding effort, which I wrote about in yesterday’s Daily 202. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote in: “I’m not convinced by the Koch network’s new charm offensive; nor should your readers be. Until we know how much the Kochs, and the 634 other mega-donors who joined them, are spending on dark-money campaigns to block action on climate change, undermine public unions, confirm obedient judges, and cut their own taxes by billions of dollars, we should view their latest PR effort as more obfuscation. … If Charles Koch’s top goal is ‘uniting with people across the whole spectrum,’ he should unite them around honest facts and science, not deceitful campaigns funded by dark money.”

-- While they may still share many of the same goals, especially when it comes to judges and regulations, there is mounting tension between the Koch network and the official GOP apparatus. My colleague Michelle Ye Hee Lee, who covers money in politics and has also been here for the donor meeting, scoops that the data firm aligned with the Republican National Committee does not plan to renew a data-sharing agreement with the Koch network for the 2020 cycle, after years of working in tandem to enrich voter files for GOP campaigns and state parties. Henry Barbour, the chairman of the RNC-backed firm Data Trust, said the split was prompted by the network’s decision not to endorse President Trump for reelection in 2020 or to support Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) last fall.

“In the past, [the Koch network’s data operation] i360 was a consistent supporter of the Republican and conservative ecosystem, so we have worked with them to help win elections, but that has changed,” Barbour said. “I don’t see a path where we have an agreement with them in the 2020 election cycle.”

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GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The Nevada Gaming Control Board said that Wynn Resorts executives ignored accusations of sexual assault and harassment for more than a decade against then-chief executive Steve Wynn, the former RNC finance chairman. The regulator released a report in which it alleged that a former manicurist told multiple people at a Wynn casino the chief executive had “raped” and impregnated her. (Wall Street Journal)
  2. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s former chief of staff, who was forced to resign over sexual harassment allegations, was fired from his previous job for similar reasons. Kevin O’Brien left his job as a senior adviser at the Democratic Governors Association after a woman accused him of sexual harassment and an investigation corroborated her claims. But a spokesman for de Blasio said the mayor did not know of the previous allegations against O’Brien. (New York Times)

  3. Pacific Gas and Electric filed for bankruptcy protection as it faces billions of dollars in potential liabilities from the California wildfires. State authorities have determined that PG&E power lines were responsible for at least 18 wildfires that killed 22 people in October 2017, and the utility may still be declared liable for November’s devastating Camp Fire. (Wall Street Journal)

  4. Several prominent Democrats are forming a new group, the Democratic Majority for Israel, to support 2020 candidates with staunchly pro-Israel views. The group’s formation comes as a number of high-profile progressive lawmakers have voiced support for Palestinian rights. (New York Times)

  5. A polar vortex diving into the Midwest and Great Lakes will cause wind chills to drop to as low as minus-65. The National Weather Service in Chicago warned that the “life-threatening extreme cold” could cause “rapid onset of frostbite and hypothermia.” The subfreezing temperatures are also expected to break numerous records across the region. (Angela Fritz)

  6. A gunfight erupted between Houston police officers and two suspects who had been accused of selling narcotics. The exchange left both suspects dead and five officers injured, two of whom remain in critical condition. (Brittney Martin and Michael Brice-Saddler)

  7. Authorities discovered the body of Iowa teenager Corey Brown, who ran away from home last week. The police chief in Marshalltown, Iowa, said Brown left his house after “a typical discussion about household rules between parents and a 13-year-old child.” Authorities are still investigating his death but said there is currently no evidence suggesting a crime was committed. (Lindsey Bever)

  8. A bug in Apple's FaceTime software allows users to eavesdrop on the people they are calling even without them picking up. Apple said that it has identified a fix for the problem, which would be released as part of a software update later this week. (CNN)

  9. A woman in New York spent an entire weekend trapped in the elevator of her employers’ townhouse. The home’s owners spent the weekend away, so Marites Fortaliza was not discovered in the broken elevator until Monday morning. (New York Times)

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- The Justice Department charged the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei with fraud. Ellen Nakashima and Devlin Barrett report: “A 13-count indictment filed in New York City against Huawei, two affiliates and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, details allegations of bank and wire fraud. The company also is charged with violating U.S. sanctions on Iran and conspiring to obstruct justice related to the investigation. Canadian officials arrested Meng on a U.S. warrant Dec. 1. She has since been released on bail, and her travel is confined to Vancouver and surrounding areas. Meng could face up to 30 years if found guilty on all counts. On Monday evening, the Canadian Justice Department confirmed it had received a formal request for Meng’s extradition from the United States to stand trial. ... Beijing has pressured Canada to release Meng. …

The indictment threatened to further strain relations between Washington and Beijing as officials from both countries prepare for talks this week aimed at ending a months-long economic impasse that has contributed to huge swings in the stock market. Although [Trump] had suggested he was willing to help secure Meng’s release if China met his demands for a trade deal, Justice and Commerce department officials insisted Meng’s criminal case was a separate matter.”

-- The Trump administration announced sanctions against Venezuela’s oil industry in an effort to force President Nicolás Maduro out of power. Karen DeYoung, Steven Mufson and Anthony Faiola report: “Any attempt to harm remaining U.S. diplomats in Venezuela, or violence against the newly recognized president, Juan Guaidó, ‘will be met with a significant response,’ White House national security adviser John Bolton said. He declined to define that response ... [Trump] ‘has made it very clear … all options are on the table,’ said Bolton, who announced the sanctions at a White House press briefing alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. ...

“Pentagon officials have indicated they have no orders to prepare for military action toward Venezuela. But by starving Maduro of a critical source of cash, the Trump administration has dramatically increased the pressure on his government. Maduro, responding in televised remarks to diplomats gathered in Caracas, said: ‘Never before was there an open coup attempt led from Washington. Today John Bolton asked for a coup, a desperate blow. ... There’s no limit to the extremist group that took over the White House. They’re like the Ku Klux Klan.’”

-- Writing on Bolton’s notepad reading “5,000 troops to Colombia” during the briefing raised more questions about possible military intervention in Venezuela. From Eli Rosenberg and Dan Lamothe: Pentagon officials “said that the Defense Department hadn’t received any orders to this effect. Asked about the briefing pad, the White House pointed to statements made by [Trump] and Bolton in recent days that ‘all options are on the table’ regarding Venezuela. … If enacted, the troop movement would mark a major escalation of U.S. involvement in South America, though it is unclear what exactly the service members’ roles would be.”

-- Advancing peace negotiations between U.S. and Taliban officials has the potential to soon bring an end to America’s longest war. Pamela Constable, Missy Ryan and Paul Sonne report: “Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, speaking from his palace in Kabul, addressed what appeared to be a significant breakthrough in talks between American officials and Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, calling on insurgents to begin ‘serious talks’ with his government and embrace a ‘speedy peace.’ … But both U.S. and Afghan officials said several major issues remain to be resolved before a peace agreement can be reached, including U.S. demands for an extended cease-fire and the Afghan government’s insistence on being included in talks about the Taliban’s future role in government and society.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Acting attorney general Matt Whitaker said special counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation is “close to being completed.” Devlin Barrett reports: “Whitaker made the comment during a news conference to announce indictments against [Huawei]. Asked about his view of the Mueller probe in light of critical comments he made while working as a television pundit in 2017, Whitaker said those statements were offered while he was a private citizen. ‘I have been fully briefed on the investigation and I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report,’ Whitaker said. ‘I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed. … Right now, you know, the investigation is, I think, close to being completed.’ Whitaker’s remarks, though brief, represent the most extensive comments on the subject by any senior law enforcement official in recent months. … Law enforcement officials, however, have said Mueller envisions eventually handing off prosecutorial work from his investigation to U.S. attorneys.”

-- But, but, but: An attorney for a former employee of Roger Stone said Mueller still wants his client’s testimony, indicating the special counsel may be planning another indictment of Stone or others. CNN’s Sara Murray and Katelyn Polantz report: Defense attorney Paul Kamenar's client is Andrew Miller, “a former employee of Stone's whom Mueller subpoenaed in mid-2018 to testify to the grand jury. In a court hearing about Miller's testimony, a judge made clear that Mueller sought information Miller had about Stone's communications regarding Wikileaks and Russian hackers around the time they disseminated damaging hacked Democratic emails. … Justice Department guidelines say that a grand jury can only hear evidence after a person is indicted only if the grand jury continues to work on new charges — either against that person or against additional planned defendants. In short, when a defendant like Stone is indicted, prosecutors must already have the evidence needed to take the case they open to trial. So Miller's testimony may relate to a still-unknown criminal case.”

-- Stone’s former associate Jerome Corsi claimed Stone expressed hope the WikiLeaks email dumps during the 2016 campaign would coincide with news of the “Access Hollywood” tape. Isaac Stanley-Becker reports: “‘I had one call from Roger, as I recall it — Roger disputes this — on the day that WikiLeaks did begin in October dropping the final emails on John Podesta, in which Roger was essentially saying, ‘We’ve got this timing issue because the Billy Bush tape is going to be released, and we’d like to have Assange begin releasing emails now,’’ Corsi told MSNBC’s Ari Melber on Monday evening. … Corsi acknowledged that he could not ‘prove’ that the longtime Republican operative and self-described ‘dirty trickster’ had taken steps to influence the timing of the email dump. Instead, he merely shared his recollection of their phone conversation.”

-- William Barr once again refused to guarantee that he would publicly release Mueller’s report if confirmed as attorney general. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Barr stressed that his ‘goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law’ in several of the answers he provided to [Judiciary Committee] senators, who challenged him to offer better assurances that he would release the report than he did during a confirmation hearing earlier this month. Democrats on the panel also failed to secure a firmer promise from Barr to alert them if Justice Department ethics officials advise him to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller probe, reserving the final decision for himself. … On Monday, Sens. Richard J. Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill to guarantee that every special-counsel report would be released directly to Congress and the public, effectively taking out the attorney general as middleman.”

-- Barr added in his written answers to the Senate that he has discussed the Mueller probe with Vice President Pence. The AP’s Eric Tucker reports: Barr said “that he and Pence have had occasional conversations since the spring of 2017 on matters including policy and personnel. Some of those conversations included ‘general discussion of the Special Counsel’s investigation in which I gave my views on such matters as Bob Mueller’s high integrity and various media reports.’ ‘In these conversations, I did not provide legal advice, nor, to the best of my recollection, did he provide confidential information,’ Barr told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat.”

-- Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen has agreed to testify behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee as he shakes up his legal team. Matt Zapotosky reports: “Lanny J. Davis, one of Cohen’s lawyers who also has served as his media representative, said in a statement that Cohen is bringing on Michael Monico and Barry Spevack — two veteran Chicago-based lawyers from the firm Monico and Spevack — to replace Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester, who had represented him as he went through proceedings in federal court in Manhattan. A person familiar with the matter said Cohen had fallen behind in his bills to Petrillo and Lester, although Davis disputed that this led to the change. … On Monday, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said Cohen had agreed to appear voluntarily before the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 8 for nonpublic testimony. He already had been issued a subpoena to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, also a closed-door session, and is expected to do so Feb. 12, Davis has said.”

-- A federal judge delayed former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s sentencing on tax and bank fraud convictions, citing his ongoing dispute with Mueller’s team. From Rachel Weiner: “Manafort’s sentencing hearing in federal court in Alexandria had been set for Feb. 8. A new date has not been scheduled. The postponement was sparked by allegations made by prosecutors in Manafort’s related case in D.C. federal court, where the former Trump campaign chairman pleaded guilty to crimes related to his undisclosed lobbying work. The special counsel said Manafort lied repeatedly to the FBI and a grand jury after committing to offer truthful information. Manafort, 69, has maintained that he made honest mistakes and did his best to correct them.”

SHUTDOWN FALLOUT:

-- Trump accepted an invitation from Nancy Pelosi to reschedule his State of the Union address for Feb. 5. Felicia Sonmez reports: “‘We have a great story to tell and yet, great goals to achieve!’ he said in the letter, which was released by the White House.”

-- While federal employees tried to get the government back up to speed, the possibility of another shutdown in three weeks hangs over every office. Lisa Rein, Tracy Jan and Kimberly Kindy report: “In airports, security lines were moving faster after five weeks of extended absences sidelined 10 percent of the nation’s baggage screeners. National Park Service rangers assessed the damage from winter weather. The Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo prepared to reopen Tuesday. The shutdown cost the American economy about $3 billion, the Congressional Budget Office estimated Monday. As they returned to work, employees were concerned that they might not receive back pay for several weeks.”

-- “It was a routine day, except not,” Dan Zak, Caitlin Gibson and Ben Terris report of government workers’ first day back at the office. “Laurel Bryant works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, up in Silver Spring. The mood Monday was joyous, like a big family reunion — if your family had to suddenly drop everything and scatter for five weeks. Everyone’s equipment had to be left behind, and passwords were forgotten, but the wizards from IT were circulating, checking in with everyone, asking if all was okay. Too many people were logging on at the same time to fill out their timecards, so the system kept crashing. ‘I came back to 4,459 emails,’ Bryant said. ‘I’m down to 4,222.’ It was barely past 11 a.m. ‘I’ll get through it.’”

THE IMMIGRATION WARS RAGE ON:

-- Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said Trump hopes to reach a “simple” deal on the border wall rather than a broader immigration agreement before government funding once again lapses on Feb. 15. Seung Min Kim reports: Perdue, “who lunched privately with the president Sunday at the White House, also indicated that Trump is prepared to act on his own should a new committee on Capitol Hill struggle to come up with an agreement on the wall that satisfies him. … ‘He wants as simple of a solution as we can get,’ Perdue said in an interview Monday. While the president would like a more sweeping immigration package at some point, Perdue said Trump acknowledges ‘that’s just not realistic in three weeks.’ Perdue added that while Trump is ‘hopeful’ that a new bipartisan committee of 17 lawmakers can strike a deal on modest border security, ‘at the end of the day, if in three weeks [there is no resolution], this president’s ready to move.’”

-- Trump's 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale is encouraging the president to stand by his demand for a border wall even if it means another shutdown. CNN’s Dana Bash and Bridget Nolan report: “As part of his pitch, Parscale is presenting the President with internal data that shows voters in key swing areas believe a border wall or fence is needed. After the shutdown ended, Parscale commissioned a GOP firm to test the President's job performance and his border policies in 10 swing House districts where Democrats won in November. The chosen districts allow Parscale to show how staying the course could put pressure on House Democrats and [Pelosi] to break their so far steadfast opposition to funding a border wall.”

-- But Senate Republicans are voicing little desire for a second shutdown, per Politico’s Burgess Everett, John Bresnahan and Sarah Ferris. “Though House Republicans aren’t ruling out supporting the president should he choose another confrontation over his border wall, the Republican Senate majority — which actually has governing power — has another view. ‘I did not love the shutdown. I wouldn’t think anybody would have another shutdown,’ said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), one of the key negotiators trying to strike a deal on border security.”

-- Barr refused to answer whether he would defend Trump in court if he unilaterally declares a national emergency as a pretext to fund the wall. From Politico’s Marianne Levine: “‘I have not examined the facts and circumstances pertaining to security on the southern border with this issue in mind, and therefore, I am not in a position to further comment on what would constitute a national emergency,’ Barr wrote in response to a question from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) He added that if he is confirmed, he’d ensure ‘that the Department’s advice on this subject is consistent with any applicable law.’”

-- Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller said, “I would be happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched American soil,” according to former White House communications aide Cliff Sims’s new book “Team of Vipers,” which hits stores today. The Associated Press reports: “Sims writes that, any time a refugee or immigrant committed a ‘gruesome’ crime, Miller would walk over to the White House press office to demand that press releases be issued about the cases. Sims says Miller made the comment about refugees during a conversation the two were having about immigration. … Miller did not respond to an emailed request for comment. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said during a rare televised briefing Monday, ‘I’m not aware of any statement like that that Stephen Miller has ever made.’” Note: That is not a denial.

-- Meanwhile, the Trump Winery in Virginia has again submitted a request to hire foreign guest workers. BuzzFeed News’s Jeremy Singer-Vine, Ken Bensinger and Jessica Garrison report: “Trump Winery, also known as Trump Vineyard Estates, LLC, is seeking the workers under the federal H-2 visa program, which allows US employers to hire foreign laborers on a temporary basis as long as no qualified US workers want the jobs. … Businesses owned by or bearing the name of Trump … have sought to hire more than 600 foreign guest workers since he launched his presidential campaign in June 2015. Many have worked as servers and house cleaners at Mar-a-Lago as well as at the president’s various golf clubs.”

-- A comedian based in Portland, Ore., and originally from Libya said Border Patrol agents forced him off a Greyhound bus in Washington state and accused him of presenting false identification when they asked him for proof of citizenship. “I explained to them that I was granted asylum here in the United States, and that the work permit they currently hold and the license are impossible to get unless your presence here is legal,” Mohanad Elshieky said in a Twitter thread that has gone viral. “They told me that I was lying and these could pretty much be falsified.” (Luz Lazo)

2020 WATCH:

-- A majority of Americans say they would “definitely” not vote for Trump if the election were held today as the Democratic primary race looks wide open, according to a fresh Post-ABC poll. Michael Scherer and Scott Clement report: “When asked whom they would support today for the Democratic presidential nomination, 56 percent of self-identified Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents did not offer a name. No candidate received double-digit support, with former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) leading the pack. The lack of commitment on the Democratic side comes as Trump appears vulnerable to defeat in a 2020 general election, and perhaps even to a challenge from within the Republican Party. A 56 percent majority of all Americans say they would ‘definitely not vote for him’ should Trump become the Republican nominee, while 14 percent say they would consider voting for him and 28 percent would definitely vote for him. Majorities of independents (59 percent), women (64 percent) and suburbanites (56 percent) rule out supporting Trump for a second term.”

-- Former Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz disputed the idea that his potential independent presidential campaign would guarantee Trump a second term. NPR’s Jessica Taylor reports: “Schultz pushed back on that concern, arguing that he could be successful where other independent candidates haven't been by appealing to an increasingly growing center and peeling off Democratic voters put off by the party's progressive leanings. ‘I think lifelong Democrats and many, many more lifelong Republicans than Democrats realize are looking for a home,’ Schultz said. ‘If there is a choice between President Trump and a progressive liberal-minded person on the Democratic side, it would kill me to see President Trump be re-elected, and I believe that is what would take place.’”

-- A heckler concerned about Schultz’s presidential ambitions disrupted his book tour event in New York City. Before being escorted out by security, the heckler said, “Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire … Go back to getting ratioed on Twitter. Go back to Davos with the other billionaire elite who think they know how to run the world.” (ABC News)

-- Schultz has hired two well-known political strategists from opposite parties to help him map out a run, according to CBS News’s Ed O'Keefe and Camilo Montoya-Galvez. Steve Schmidt, “a former top Republican strategist, helped run George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign and the failed 2008 presidential bid by GOP Arizona Senator John McCain. [Bill] Burton helped run Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and later served as deputy White House press secretary. In June 2018, Schmidt announced he was leaving the Republican Party, tweeting in June that it had become ‘fully the party of Trump.’ Schmidt has been long rumored as a potential Schultz aide, given that he has spoken out publicly about the potential openings for an independent candidate. Burton, who once considered running for Congress from Buffalo, is based in California and is leaving his role with the Democratic media strategy firm SKDKnickerbocker.”

-- Kamala Harris said she would support ending private insurance to enact Medicare-for-all. CNN’s Tami Luhby and Gregory Krieg report: “‘We need to have Medicare-for-all,’ Harris told a questioner in the audience [at her CNN town hall], noting it's something she feels ‘very strongly’ about. When pressed by CNN's Jake Tapper if that means eliminating private insurance, the senator answered affirmatively, saying she would be OK with cutting insurers out of the mix. She also accused them of thinking only of their bottom lines and of burdening Americans with paperwork and approval processes. … It was an answer that Republicans immediately jumped on. Michael Ahrens, rapid response director for the Republican National Committee, said on Twitter, ‘Dems in 2019: If you like your plan, we're eliminating it.’”

-- Harris could face hurdles trying to achieve the same level of support Barack Obama received from black voters during the 2008 Democratic primaries. The New York Times’s Astead W. Herndon and Susan Chira report: “In many ways, she is well positioned: Ms. Harris is the most high-profile and politically connected black woman ever to run for president, and she can also draw on her powerful alumni networks from Howard University, one of the most prominent historically black colleges, and Alpha Kappa Alpha, the oldest black sorority. Yet interviews with more than 30 black voters and political leaders in early primary states like South Carolina and her home state, California, show that Ms. Harris faces challenges. She will have to persuade black activists skeptical of her record as a prosecutor; overcome sexism and a bias on the part of some voters that a female candidate cannot beat [Trump]; and work to gain broader support from black men, who generally expressed more wariness about Ms. Harris in interviews than black women.”

-- Joe Biden told a crowd in Florida he will “make the decision soon.” From Politico’s Marc Caputo: “Biden made his remarks about his future plans during a question-and-answer portion of an event billed as ‘An Evening with Vice President Joe Biden’ at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, which had so many people in attendance that Biden said even his daughter wondered about 2020. ‘Dad, are we running?’ Biden said she told him as they walked in. ‘The answer,’ Biden said to the crowd, ‘is that I’m running the traps on this. I don’t want to make this a fool’s errand. I’m a lot closer than I was before Christmas and we’ll make the decision soon.’”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump attacked Sen. Richard Blumenthal after the Connecticut Democrat introduced a bill that would require the special counsel's report to be released publicly:

He also made this argument against climate change:

Congressional Democrats continue to slam Trump over the shutdown:

Michael Bloomberg, who might run as a Democrat, outlined why he opposes a third-party presidential campaign in 2020 as fellow billionaire Howard Schultz weighs such a bid:

Trump said he thinks Schultz could improve his reelection prospects, per a New York Times reporter:

A former spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee quoted Schultz to criticize the Democratic position on health care:

A Post reporter made a good point about all the attention Schultz has gotten:

Elizabeth Warren gave Wall Street another reason to fear her:

An NBC News reporter mocked Bolton and Mnuchin's visual aids when announcing sanctions against Venezuela:

The president's son lashed out against reports that Trump National Golf Club recently fired a group of workers for their undocumented status:

George P. Bush, the Texas land commissioner and the grandson of George H.W. and Barbara Bush, slammed Tom Brokaw's comments about Hispanics and assimilation:

A House Democrat and Iraq War veteran also took aim at Brokaw's comments:

A Massachusetts legislator experienced this insulting exchange:

And an ABC News producer shared details of this uncomfortable flight:

GOOD READS:

-- New York Times, “The Case of the Bumbling Spy: A Watchdog Group Gets Him on Camera,” by Ronen Bergman and Scott Shane: “Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog organization at the University of Toronto, has published hard-hitting research on powerful targets in recent years … So when John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, got an odd request for a meeting last week from someone describing himself as a wealthy investor from Paris, he suspected a ruse and decided to set a trap. Over lunch at New York’s five-star Peninsula Hotel, the white-bearded visitor, who said his name was Michel Lambert, praised Mr. Scott-Railton’s work and pried for details about Citizen Lab. Then — ‘as I was finishing my crème brûlée,’ Mr. Scott-Railton said — a reporter and photographer from The Associated Press, alerted by Mr. Scott-Railton and lurking nearby, confronted the visitor, who bumped into chairs and circled the room while trying to flee. … The case of the bumbling spy is the latest episode involving undercover agents, working for private intelligence firms or other clients, who adopt false identities to dig up compromising information about or elicit embarrassing statements from their targets.”

-- “Lifestyle guru B. Smith has Alzheimer’s. Her husband has a girlfriend. Her fans aren’t having it,” by Lavanya Ramanathan: “She is still model-slim at 69, actually. Her face, now framed with a halo of tight gray curls, is just as it was 20 years ago, when B. Smith was on TV, on the cover of magazines and books, when she had restaurants, when everyone seemed to call her ‘the black Martha Stewart,’ as if it weren’t enough to just be B. Smith. Six years ago, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. … Not long after, B.’s restaurants shuttered. Her appearances dried up. With Dan Gasby, her husband and business partner of more than two decades, she turned her efforts to speaking about Alzheimer’s and advocating for research. Then, she didn’t do much talking at all. … Dan had never been the type to bite his tongue, never bothered with niceties. At 64, he had a wife, and he had a girlfriend named Alex Lerner. He was happy and in love. And, well, why lie?”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Texas Republicans criticized for their Holocaust Remembrance Day message: ‘Leftism kills,’” from Amy B Wang: “Like so many seeking to recognize International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Harris County Republican Party posted a message to Facebook on Sunday. It included a somber image of a candle and a star-shaped yellow badge, the symbol the Nazis forced Jewish people to wear during the Holocaust to identify and psychologically isolate them. The GOP chapter then added its own note: ‘Leftism kills,’ the caption began. ‘In memory of the 6 million Jews lost to Nazi hatred in the name of National Socialism. We will never forget.’ Many decried the post as offensive and accused the group of politicizing one of history’s greatest atrocities.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“'No Reason For It Except to Intimidate': Chris Christie Rips Mueller for Ordering Stone Raid,” from Fox News: “Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday on ‘Hannity’ that though he has defended [Mueller] in the past, the raid on Roger Stone's home was indefensible. Christie said that, if the Mueller team knew Stone owned no weapons and had not posed a threat, then there was ‘no reason’ for the show of force Mueller ordered the FBI to display in Fort Lauderdale on Friday. ‘There's no reason except to intimidate [Stone],’ Christie, a Republican from Mendham, said. Christie, who noted he served for seven years as the federal prosecutor for the District of New Jersey, said the raid was an ‘inappropriate use of prosecutorial authority’ by Mueller.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has no events on his public schedule today.

Looking ahead: The president has agreed to a Super Bowl Sunday interview with CBS News’s Margaret Brennan, the host of “Face the Nation.” CBS will air parts of the interview on “Face the Nation” and others on the Super Bowl pregame telecast. (CNN)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Kamala Harris addressed whether she thought a woman could beat Trump in 2020. In response, she recalled the many doubters she had when she ran for district attorney in San Francisco and attorney general of California: “I’ve heard people say when I ran, and ran as the first woman who would win, ‘People aren’t ready. It’s not your time. Nobody like you has done that before.’ I haven’t listened and I would suggest that nobody should listen to that kind of conversation.” (Politico)

 

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

-- Washington could see rain, snow and a wintry mix today, which may create dangerous road conditions. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “A wintry mix of sleet, snow and rain possible this morning as temperatures lift into the 30s to low 40s for highs under mostly cloudy skies. Rain changes to snow during the afternoon as temperatures drop below freezing, which could create slippery road and sidewalk conditions where surfaces are untreated. Total snow accumulation ranges from just a coating to two inches in the immediate D.C. area and between one and three inches north of the city and toward Baltimore.”

-- The District’s response to the opioid epidemic was fiercely criticized during a D.C. Council hearing. From Peter Jamison: “The joint hearing by the council’s health and judiciary committees served as a cathartic moment for advocates and medical professionals who bemoaned what they described as years of missed opportunities to save lives. … It was not immediately clear what new initiatives or legislation could emerge from the hearing, which ran uninterrupted for more than nine hours and touched on topics including the need for more street outreach to heroin users and the possibility of government-supervised sites where drug users can inject heroin.”

-- Republican leaders of the Virginia House of Delegates backed a plan to establish an independent redistricting commission. Gregory S. Schneider reports: “The plan rolled out Monday by Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Spotsylvania) and endorsed by Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) would call for an amendment to the state constitution to set up a 12-member commission appointed mostly by the legislature. … The commission would then prepare district maps for both houses of the state legislature and Congress and submit those to the General Assembly, which would have to consider them — unchanged — in a straight up-or-down vote.”

-- The Justice Department announced a contractor would be forced to pay $1 million for the flawed concrete panels it built for the Silver Line Metro extension. Lori Aratani and Rachel Weiner report: “Universal Concrete Products Corp. and its president and co-owner, Donald Faust Jr., admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement. However, Andrew Nolan, a former manager at the company, pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in falsifying test data to show that the concrete had passed inspection and for ordering others to do the same.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Cliff Sims, the author of the latest Trump White House tell-all, appeared on Stephen Colbert's show:

Seth Meyers argued that Roger Stone's arrest encapsulated Trump's presidency:

A man in Russia was caught on camera trying to steal a painting from a gallery in the middle of the day:

Members of a Texas community attended the funeral of an Air Force veteran after the cemetery's management realized he had no next of kin:

And a road-rage incident escalated to life-threatening stakes when a man jumped onto the hood of an SUV and clung to it as the driver sped down the highway: