with Joanie Greve

With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Senate Republicans voted Thursday afternoon to rebuke President Trump for his plans to draw down troops in Syria and Afghanistan, endorsing a resolution that says “a precipitous withdrawal” will threaten national security and “could allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions, and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia.”

The nonbinding measure advanced 68 to 23, yet all but one of the Democrats considering a run for president in 2020 opposed it. It was a collective nod to the antiwar psyche of the liberal base and a reminder that support for the invasion of Iraq doomed Hillary Clinton when Barack Obama challenged her for the nomination in 2008.

All four senators who have announced their bids voted no, including Cory Booker (N.J.), who threw his hat into the ring this morning. (More on that below.) He was joined by Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) also opposed the measure.

The only potential candidate who voted for the amendment was moderate Michael Bennet of Colorado.

All told, 20 of the 47 senators in the Democratic caucus voted no, and 25 voted yes. The two who missed the vote both probably would have opposed the amendment. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who was visiting Iowa, said he supports an “organized withdrawal” from both countries, as long as it’s “coordinated with our allies and planned with the input of both the State Department and the Department of Defense.” Brown also emphasized his early and consistent opposition to the Iraq War during the 20-minute speech on Wednesday night that launched his listening tour around the early states.

-- Sanders has been calling the fight in Afghanistan “unwinnable” for more than a decade, and he referred to the U.S. presence as an “occupation” during his 2016 campaign. “American troops have been in Afghanistan for nearly 18 years, the longest war in American history,” he said in a statement yesterday. “Our troops have been in Syria since 2015 under what I believe are very questionable legal authorities. The American people do not want endless war. It is the job of Congress to responsibly end these military interventions and bring our troops home, not to come up with more reasons to continue them, as this amendment does. That is why I voted against it.”

-- As she kicked off her campaign last month, Warren also praised Trump’s plan to bow out of Syria and Afghanistan so that America could escape its “endless wars.” “I think it is right to get our troops out of Syria — and, let me add, I think it’s right to get our troops out of Afghanistan,” she told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Warren said there remain “lots of different problems in Afghanistan” despite 17 long years of active U.S. engagement. “And what seems to be the answer from the foreign policy establishment? ‘Stay forever.’ That is not a policy,” she said. “We can’t do that.”

-- The president tweeted on Jan. 13: “Stop the ENDLESS WARS!” Can you think of another issue on which Trump uses the same talking point as Warren and Sanders? Me neither.

-- Gillibrand took a similar stance, though she didn’t go quite as far as Warren, when she appeared on Maddow’s show a few weeks later. “I think we should be drawing down our troops, not only in Afghanistan but the remainder in Iraq and in Syria,” the New York Democrat said. “Then give Congress the opportunity that, if they believe we should be in combat missions in any of these countries, that we actually file a new authorization for the military use of force.”

-- Reluctant to be seen as agreeing with Trump on anything, several 2020 Democrats have criticized his style and the way he announced the pullout via tweet, but they didn't say what they’d do if they were in charge. Last week, HuffPost called out most of the potential field for being wishy-washy or otherwise silent on whether they’d keep troops in Syria and Afghanistan. Nick Robins-Early wrote about his struggles to pin down the candidates:

  • “The spokesperson for Booker did not respond when asked to clarify the senator’s own position on whether he would support a withdrawal of forces from Syria and Afghanistan.
  • Harris “rebuked the current White House on its foreign policy strategy but did not specifically mention Syria and Afghanistan.
  • “Klobuchar did not respond to [a] request for comment, but in an interview with Fox News shortly after Trump’s Syria announcement, she criticized the president for not listening to the advice of the military and called the chaotic nature of the withdrawal a disaster for allies.
  • “The following Democrats have made no public statements on the withdrawals, and did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment: Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), former Vice President Joe Biden, former Housing Secretary Julian Castro and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).”

-- An exception is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who will kick off her long-shot 2020 campaign with a rally tomorrow on the island of Oahu. She has celebrated Trump’s decision to get out of Syria. “We need to get out of Syria ASAP in a responsible manner (it shouldn’t take long),” she tweeted.

Gabbard also expresses no remorse for her 2017 sit-down with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a.k.a. “the Butcher of Damascus.” “I have seen this cost of war firsthand, which is why I fight so hard for peace,” Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Jan. 20. “The only alternative to having these kinds of conversations is more war.”

Assad has been credibly accused of using chemical weapons to murder civilians, including children. The congresswoman has voiced skepticism that he was behind such barbaric attacks, despite consensus across the U.S. intelligence community.

-- Politics can make for strange bedfellows. The Wall Street Journal editorial board cheered yesterday’s vote: “Trump’s alleged isolationist takeover of the Republican Party seems to have been greatly exaggerated.”

-- Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a story from CNN this morning that reports the Islamic State’s territory in Syria has been reduced to 1.5 square miles. The president’s son wrote: “Finish them and bring our troops home!!!”

-- But, but, but: A draft Pentagon report warns that without continued pressure, ISIS could regain territory in six to 12 months,” NBC News reports this morning. “The finding is in a draft of the Department of Defense Inspector General Quarterly Report about Operation Inherent Resolve that is expected to be released early next week. … The draft says ISIS is intent on reconstituting a physical caliphate and that with ungoverned spaces in Syria and no military pressure, the terror group could retake land in a matter of months …

The number of U.S. troops in Syria has spiked to around 3,000 in recent days as more troops have moved in to help with the withdrawal,” per Courtney Kube, Josh Lederman and Carol Lee. “Logistical support and security forces are in the country to help move equipment and eventually troops out. The U.S. military remains under orders for a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops in 120 days, ending the U.S. presence there in mid-spring.”

-- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who introduced the amendment, gleefully highlighted the “rifts” among Senate Democrats over Syria. “I honestly did not expect this would be controversial stuff,” he said in a floor speech. “I didn’t expect that my colleagues across the aisle would make a partisan stand and try to block this straightforward ‘Sense of the Senate’ amendment when it really just restates what most of us thought was a broad, bipartisan consensus about American leadership in the world.”

-- One reason this was such an easy vote for Senate Republicans is that it allowed them to stand by party orthodoxy without meaningfully confronting the leader of their party for rejecting it. Many lawmakers in both parties like to joke privately about what are known as “Sense of the Senate” resolutions, which this was, because they’re so toothless. If you don’t really want to actually change policy or force a president’s hand by using the power of the purse as a coequal branch of government, you pass a nonbinding resolution like this.

That’s partly why the White House didn’t whip yesterday’s vote and Republicans who normally live in fear of Trump felt free to defect. Contrast that to the Russia sanctions override vote the week before last. That one mattered because a billionaire oligarch who is closely tied to Vladimir Putin was getting substantive relief in a way that boosted his bottom line and signaled to American allies that Washington is going soft in the pressure campaign against the Kremlin. In that case, only 11 Republicans broke ranks, and the Senate fell three votes short of thwarting Trump.

-- It’s not just politics. The Democratic Party is genuinely divided over America’s role in the world, and questions of war and peace are always fraught. Consider these two perspectives from senators who aren’t running for president.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, voted yes because he said it sends “an important message” to Trump.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who voted no, reiterated his calls for Congress to have a debate on whether to formally authorize the use of military force in Syria. “The president does not have congressional authorization to use United States troops to fight ISIS in Syria or anywhere else,” he said. “I am deeply worried — deeply worried — about the language in this amendment that empowers those in the administration who are jonesing for a fight with Iran. I do not believe that, however capable and brave our troops are in Syria, that they are ultimately the answer.”


-- The New Jersey Democrat’s announcement comes on the first day of Black History Month. He joins Harris in a field that could include three serious African American contenders. Former attorney general Eric Holder is the other.

“I believe that we can build a country where no one is forgotten, no one is left behind,” Booker said in the video distributed to supporters at 7 a.m., “where parents can put food on the table; where there are good paying jobs with good benefits in every neighborhood; where our criminal justice system keeps us safe, instead of shuffling more children into cages and coffins; where we see the faces of our leaders on television and feel pride, not shame.”

The 49-year-old, who played football for Stanford before becoming a Rhodes Scholar, contrasts his upbringing with other senators he serves alongside: “When I was a baby, my parents tried to move us into a neighborhood with great public schools, but realtors wouldn’t sell us a home because of the color of our skin,” he says to the camera. “A group of white lawyers, who had watched the courage of civil rights activists, were inspired to help black families in their own community, including mine. And they changed the course of my entire life. Because in America, courage is contagious. My Dad told me, ‘Boy, never forget where you came from, or how many people had to sacrifice to get you where you are.’ ”

-- “Booker has been looked at as a potential presidential contender for most of his political life,” Chelsea Janes and Dave Weigel write in an appraisal of his candidacy. “In 2002, when he made his first, unsuccessful bid for mayor of Newark, he was followed by reporters and documentary crews. Four years later, Booker ran again and won by a landslide. In 2012, Booker angered liberals by criticizing President Barack Obama’s attacks on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, saying that painting Wall Street with ‘broad brushes’ was unfair to ‘the good people who work there.’ But in 2013, when the death of Frank Lautenberg opened one of New Jersey’s U.S. Senate seats, Booker zoomed through a special election and won easily — with a donor list that included Ivanka Trump. Booker … quickly established himself as a business-friendly liberal. …

After winning a full term in 2014, Booker began to make moves on the left. He broke with [Menendez] to back Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and helped protect states that had legalized medical marijuana. In 2016, [Sanders] quietly vetted Booker as a potential running mate. In 2017, Booker endorsed Sanders’s Medicare-for-all health-care plan, as well as legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. … Booker is the rare bachelor to seek the presidency; none has been elected since 1856.”

-- In the video, Booker sounds like he’s trying to channel Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote.

Here’s Booker: “The history of our nation is defined by collective action; by interwoven destinies of slaves and abolitionists; of those born here and those who chose America as home; of those who took up arms to defend our country; and those who linked arms to challenge and change it.”

Here’s Obama: “It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.”

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The United States' plan to scrap this Cold War treaty raises fears of another nuclear arms buildup. (William Neff/The Washington Post)


-- The United States officially announced this morning that it will pull out of a nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, ending a cornerstone Cold War agreement on the grounds that Russian violations render it moot. Anne Gearan and Carol Morello report: “The demise of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty raises fears of a new nuclear arms race, although U.S. officials discount the risk. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is suspending participation in the agreement, starting a six-month countdown to a final U.S. withdrawal. That leaves a slim chance that Russia could end missile programs widely seen as a violation, salvaging the treaty. The United States accuses Moscow of violating the agreement since 2014.”

-- The U.S. economy added 304,000 jobs in January, shaking off the partial government shutdown, and the unemployment rate percent nudged up to 4 percent. Danielle Paquette reports on this morning’s employment report from the Labor Department: “The January numbers come despite a 35-day closure that halted the wages of roughly 800,000 federal workers and benched more than a million contractors who prepare meals and clean and guard public buildings. But the U.S. private sector appeared to chug along at a healthy pace. Economists said January was on track to be the 100th straight month of job growth since 2010. … Paychecks have been steadily climbing, and more people are looking for work. December brought a slightly higher labor-force participation rate: 63.1 percent of Americans were working or searching for jobs, up from November’s 62.9 percent.”

A record-shattering Arctic blast hit parts of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and beyond durning the polar vortex in January 2019. (The Washington Post)


  1. The polar vortex affecting the Midwest is causing some of the coldest temperatures on the planet right now. Temperatures dipped below minus-50 degrees in some corners of the region, causing massive school closures and flight cancellations. (Katie Mettler, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Angela Fritz)

  2. Louisiana abortion providers asked the Supreme Court for an emergency stay of a state law that would severely curtail access to the procedure. The request sets up a key test for the court’s strengthened conservative majority. But critics accused the federal judges who upheld the legislation of essentially seeking a do-over of the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision to strike down a nearly identical Texas law. (Robert Barnes)

  3. The Trump administration is proposing rules to end drug manufacturers’ rebates to middlemen. Drug policy experts said the rules, which would apply to Medicare and Medicaid drug plans, marked a good first step to bringing down the price of prescription medicine. (Amy Goldstein and Christopher Rowland)

  4. Twitter has removed thousands of accounts originating from Iran, Russia and Venezuela for spreading disinformation. The social media giant revealed that some of the accounts targeted the United States’ 2018 midterms by attempting to stoke political unrest. (Tony Romm)

  5. Catholic leaders in Texas named 286 priests and others who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children. Every diocese in the state has provided names of those accused in its district, making Texas one of the only states to provide such a thorough accounting of alleged abuse. (AP)

  6. Chicago police detectives are sifting through multiple surveillance videos to compile a “digital puzzle” of the attack against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett. But police have been unable to retrieve footage of the assault itself, prompting criticism on social media that the investigation is not advancing quickly enough. (Chicago Tribune)

  7. The trial of “El Chapo” has painted a vivid picture of how Mexican cartels smuggle drugs into the United States. The prosecution, which presented closing arguments Wednesday, has detailed how the cartels relied on underground tunnels and hidden compartments in cars to distribute drugs to the United States and reap billions in profit. (Edith Honan, Mark Berman and Katie Zezima)

  8. The American Heart Association estimated that nearly half of U.S. adults have cardiovascular disease. The uptick is mainly because of recent changes in determining high blood pressure, which increased the number of Americans suffering from it. (AP)

  9. The San Diego Padres have expressed interest in Bryce Harper. The hype surrounding Harper, who spent the past seven years with the Washington Nationals, has so far failed to materialize into a signed contract, even with the start of spring training less than two weeks away. (Jesse Dougherty)

President Trump said Jan. 31 if the barrier between San Diego and Tijuana was taken down House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would be "begging for a wall." (Reuters)


-- In an interview with the New York Times, Trump declared that congressional negotiations to craft a funding deal are a “waste of time,” adding that he will probably act on his own to get his border wall constructed. The Times’s Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report: “‘I think Nancy Pelosi is hurting our country very badly by doing what she’s doing and, ultimately, I think I’ve set the table very nicely,’ Mr. Trump said. He made no mention of closing the government again, a move that backfired on him, but instead suggested he plans to declare a national emergency to build the wall. ‘I’ve set the table,’ he said. ‘I’ve set the stage for doing what I’m going to do.’ ... The interview was arranged after Mr. Trump reached out to A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, and invited him for an off-the-record dinner. Mr. Sulzberger declined, saying he would prefer an on-the-record interview that included two of his reporters. The president agreed.”

-- Trump's comments came as Pelosi once again insisted a deal would not include any wall funding, which the president has called a prerequisite for any agreement. From Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim and John Wagner: “Members of the committee charged with producing a compromise insisted that such outside interference from party leaders on both sides would only inhibit them from reaching a deal, with several saying that left to their own devices they could do it in a day. But any agreement would require assent from Trump and Pelosi, leading some on the committee to question whether their efforts would ultimately be futile — and raising the question of what will happen on Feb. 15 when the stopgap bill funding the government expires.”

-- Talking past each other: A group of progressive House Democrats is demanding the committee reduce DHS funding. The Daily Beast’s Gideon Resnick and Sam Brodey report: “Authored by Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), the letter is expected to be formally read on the House floor next week. … The freshmen progressives’ letter … indicates that they now expect more from Democrats than simply rejecting wall money.”

-- Immigrants across the country showed up for deportation hearings that turned out to have not actually been scheduled. Maria Sacchetti and Francisco Alvarado report: “Immigrants stood in long lines in San Francisco, packed the immigration court in Arlington, Va., and battled traffic in Miami before court officials turned them away. … Similar confusion erupted on Oct. 31, when hundreds of immigrants turned up for court nationwide and were told they did not have hearings scheduled. Immigration lawyers said the ‘fake dates’ were issued by the Trump administration after a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said all notices to appear in immigration court must include a date, time and location.”

-- Border officials announced their largest-ever seizure of fentanyl after they discovered 254 pounds of the drug hidden in a truck transporting cucumbers. Nick Miroff reports: “The load was enough for more than 100 million lethal doses of the drug, a synthetic opioid that has fueled an epidemic of U.S. overdose deaths. In addition to the fentanyl, which was concealed in a secret floor compartment of the trailer, officers also uncovered 395 pounds of methamphetamine, CBP officials said. Michael Humphries, director of the Nogales port of entry, told reporters that the drugs were detected Saturday after scanning equipment alerted officers to the presence of ‘anomalies’ in the cargo that did not resemble any vegetable. ... More than 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017.”

-- Democrats are using their State of the Union guests to highlight the Trump Organization’s treatment of undocumented workers and the recent government shutdown. Elise Viebeck reports: “Sandra Diaz, a native of Costa Rica who worked at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., golf club from 2010 to 2013, will attend the speech as a guest of Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), his office confirmed Thursday. Diaz is a legal permanent resident of the United States but was undocumented at the time of her employment by the Trump Organization, her lawyer said. Diaz will join Victorina Morales, a Guatemalan who also worked at Trump’s Bedminster property and is attending the speech as a guest of Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.). … Freshman Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) has invited Linda McCray, who works at the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center and was furloughed during the recent shutdown, Wexton’s office said.”


-- Trump claimed that intelligence leaders who contradicted him on a number of national security issues during a Senate hearing earlier this week were “misquoted.” Shane Harris reports: “‘Just concluded a great meeting with my Intel team in the Oval Office,’ Trump tweeted, with a picture of CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and others seated around the Resolute Desk. The officials ‘told me that what they said on Tuesday at the Senate Hearing was mischaracterized by the media - and we are very much in agreement on Iran, ISIS, North Korea, etc.,’ Trump wrote. ‘Their testimony was distorted press....’ ‘I would suggest you read the COMPLETE testimony from Tuesday,’ the president added. ‘A false narrative is so bad for our Country. I value our intelligence community. Happily, we had a very good meeting, and we are all on the same page!’

“The hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee was public and carried on multiple TV networks. Coats, speaking on behalf of the other five witnesses, submitted 42 pages of written testimony on a wide range of security threats. Video of the hearing was posted on the committee’s website. … None of the agencies whose leaders testified have issued retractions or amendments to their written or spoken statements.”

-- The White House abruptly canceled Trump’s daily briefing with intelligence officials the day after the Senate testimony, according to the Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff and Asawin Suebsaeng. “Reached for comment, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders simply said, ‘It was moved.’ She did not go into further detail as to why and did not respond to follow-up inquiries. American presidents typically meet with their top intelligence officials—or with those officials’ deputies—every day to discuss pressing national security issues. During the Trump administration, it has not been unusual for the White House to cancel those sessions. The abruptness of this cancellation, however, was outside the norm.”

-- Trump is considering appointing former presidential candidate Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve Board. Damian Paletta and Robert Costa report: “A former pizza industry executive, he became famous for his simplified tax plan, known as Nine-Nine-Nine, and for complaints that he sexually harassed women. Trump met with Cain about the position Wednesday, two people familiar with the meeting said. Asked for comment on whether he is being considered for the post in an interview, Cain made a play on his famous tax proposal and said, ‘None-None-None.’”

-- When Cain was facing sexual harassment allegations in 2011, Trump defended him and suggested the women accusing him were merely seeking attention. “They probably do love their names splashed across the front pages. And frankly, that's not a good situation and I don't think it's a fair situation,” Trump said in a Fox News interview at the time. “And I think Herman should take very, very strong action, even if he has to bring a major lawsuit against the women.” (CNN)

-- Trump talked to Heidi Cruz, who is married to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), about leading the World Bank but decided against offering her the position, the Houston Chronicle’s Kevin Diaz reports: “Heidi Cruz, 46, reportedly met in the Oval Office with Trump on Monday, following meetings last week with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House advisor Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter. She also met with Larry Kudlow, director of the White House's National Economic Council. … A Harvard Business School graduate and Goldman Sachs managing director, Heidi Cruz is known to have strong ties both in the banking industry and in the Treasury Department, where she ran a Latin America group. Cruz was notified Tuesday that she won't be the final pick, according to persons familiar with the situation.”

-- A White House security specialist in the office that approved Jared Kushner’s top-secret clearance was suspended for defying her supervisor. NBC News’s Laura Strickler and Peter Alexander report: “The specialist, Tricia Newbold, had filed a discrimination complaint against [her supervisor, Carl Kline] three months ago. Newbold's two-week suspension from the White House security office was for failure to supervise, failure to follow instructions and defiance of authority, according to the suspension decision notice … Newbold's lawyer, Ed Passman, considers her a whistleblower and said he believes the administrative charges were brought as payback for her decision to file the complaint against Kline. … In her EEOC complaint, Newbold, who has a rare form of dwarfism, accused Kline of discriminating against her because of her height.”

-- Trump will spend the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, where he is often surrounded by supporters who insulate him from any criticism his decisions might attract. The New York Times’s Katie Rogers and Annie Karni report: “In the Mar-a-Lago cocoon, the president is in his most comfortable mode, friends and allies say: playing the jocular host in front of an adoring crowd. … Just as the Trump International Hotel in Washington has become a safe space for the president and his supporters, Mar-a-Lago is a 20-acre oasis for those who adore all things Trump, from his zero-tolerance immigration policies to the menu items named after his children. The focus on Mr. Trump has grown to the point where some Democratic members, who have loved the club’s amenities for decades, have recently rescinded their memberships because they do not feel comfortable there anymore. ...

“The White House has taken at least one informal step to block people who have access to the president’s properties from asking for anything that seems to go too far. Aides have long been on the alert to intercept any notes or policy proposals from overeager supporters — including one from a guest who once helpfully tried to show the president an executive order he had drafted. Mr. Trump has at times directed his aides to give those people ample listening time even if he cannot, according to someone familiar with the process and his thinking."

From hecklers to "not American" proposals, former Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz had a rough week after floating an independent presidential bid. (JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

2020 WATCH:

-- Republicans are pouncing on prominent Democrats’ newly announced progressive policies to paint them as a group of out-of-touch radicals. Matt Viser reports: “Sen. Kamala D. Harris is raising the possibility of eliminating private health insurance. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other prominent Democrats are floating new and far-reaching plans to tax the wealthy. In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam voiced support for state legislation that would reduce restrictions on late-term abortions. … Casting Democrats as a scary and radical force is giving a fractured Republican Party a common thrust at a time when Trump’s standing even within his own party has started to dip. And it is giving Democrats a bit of the heartburn that Republicans have been grappling with for more than two years. …

“Abortion, taxes and health care have long been among the most combustible political topics. But in the context of the energetic field of 2020 candidates and amid coarsening political rhetoric, they have taken on new gravity. The past few days offer a preview of the next two years, as Democrats argue that the country is yearning for policies previously believed to be too far left, and Republicans cast them as ‘radical zealots’ (Fox News host Laura Ingraham), ‘so radicalized’ (presidential son Eric Trump) and ‘the party of death’ (former House speaker Newt Gingrich).”

-- Trump intends to highlight the issue of late-term abortion in his State of the Union address. Politico’s Gabby Orr and Andrew Restuccia report: The president may “potentially include an anti-abortion figure among his list of invitees, according to four sources familiar with his plans. Trump sees an opening to energize his evangelical supporters and capture moderate voters who administration officials believe may be turned off by widespread coverage of New York’s newest abortion law, which allows for termination of some pregnancies after the 24-week mark for health reasons.”

-- Trump and Michael Bloomberg’s once-cordial relationship has soured since the president launched his campaign in 2015, and that rivalry now appears to be partly fueling Bloomberg’s consideration of a 2020 bid. Michael Kranish reports: “For more than a decade, the two New York billionaires appeared together at charity golf events, ribbon cuttings and even on Trump’s reality television shows, a relationship of political and business convenience if not genuine friendship. The alliance imploded the moment Trump launched his bid for the White House in 2015, exposing raw differences of policy and personality that have become only more stark as [Trump] has carried out a series of measures that are politically anathema to Bloomberg, such as withdrawing from a deal to combat global warming. Trump, in an interview this week with The Washington Post, said, ‘I really liked Michael and I think he liked me, but it went really strangely haywire once I ran for office.’ … Bloomberg has expressed doubt that a ‘short, Jewish, divorced billionaire’ such as himself could be elected president. Trump’s performance, however, has led him to seriously consider using part of his fortune to seek the Democratic nomination.”

-- Despite his uncertainty, Bloomberg has assembled one of the most experienced teams of strategists in the 2020 field. Robert Costa reports: “Bloomberg has retained more than two dozen of the party’s leading operatives and data strategists, some of whom played prominent roles in Barack Obama’s winning presidential campaigns. They are poised to leverage their networks and experience to help the billionaire former New York mayor make inroads with key constituencies across the country. … Many of those advisers say that if Bloomberg does not enter the 2020 race, they plan to stay on his team anyway, working to build what one top aide described as a ‘Koch Brothers-type group for Democrats,’ a digital and grass-roots powerhouse that would spend hundreds of millions of dollars with the sole mission of defeating” Trump.

-- Howard Schultz has told advisers that he is reconsidering his potential independent presidential bid after witnessing the fervor of criticism from the left, according to Fox Business’s Charlie Gasparino and Lydia Moynihan. “The intense nature of the criticism stunned Schultz, people close to him tell FOX Business. While he expected some carping, he did not foresee the ferocity of some of the vitriol, particularly from the party’s top officials and operatives. … What people who have spoken with Schultz agree on is that he is now readjusting his message about the likelihood of an independent presidential campaign. During the 60 Minutes interview, Schultz seemed to be leaning in the direction of entering the race, stating the he is ‘seriously thinking of running for president…as a centrist independent.’ But a senior advisor to Schultz told FOX Business on Thursday that Schultz’s decision is far from final—and he won’t make up his mind until at least the summer.”

-- FEC filings show Trump will begin the 2020 race with a significant fundraising advantage over all of his potential Democratic opponents. From Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy: “Trump’s campaign and affiliated committees raised more than $21 million in the final three months of 2018 … The latest fundraising disclosures bring the total haul for Trump’s reelection effort to more than $129 million, a record amount for a sitting president at this point in the election cycle. … Meanwhile, as many as two dozen Democratic candidates may vie for the party’s nomination in what is expected to be a bruising and expensive primary battle. These candidates are now gearing up their ability to raise money, and are far behind Trump’s fundraising pace. For example, the Senate campaign committee of [Warren] had $11 million by the time she announced her candidacy on Dec. 31, FEC filings show.”

-- Trump said in his Times interview that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is the “best opening so far” among Democratic 2020 candidates. “I would say in terms of the opening act, I would say, would be her,” Trump said. “A better crowd — better crowd, better enthusiasm.” He added that “some of the others were very flat” and that “I do think Elizabeth Warren’s been hurt very badly with the Pocahontas trap.” (New York Times)

-- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) unveiled a proposal to expand the estate tax on the wealthiest Americans. The New York Times’s Sydney Ember reports: “In his plan, Mr. Sanders proposed applying an estate tax when someone leaves assets worth more than $3.5 million to his or her heirs, the same level as in 2009. The plan significantly lowers the threshold under the current tax law, passed in late 2017, which raised the amount an individual is allowed to transfer before facing any estate tax to roughly $11 million; couples can pass on twice that much. The tax-the-rich proposals, including the one introduced by Mr. Sanders, are designed to increase revenue to pay for expanded social programs like ‘Medicare for all.’”

-- The possibility of eliminating the Senate filibuster has crept into some Democratic candidates’ pitches. Politico’s Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine report: “‘Everything stays on the table. You keep it all on the table. Don’t take anything off the table,’ [Elizabeth Warren] said when asked about the fate of the filibuster. … Countered [Cory Booker]: “We should not be doing anything to mess with the strength of the filibuster.’ … The bulk of each party doesn’t want to get rid of the minority’s ability to block legislation, reasoning that over time the filibuster has driven bipartisanship and staved off extreme policy shifts. But with Democratic candidates beginning to tout a sweeping agenda, the debate is shifting — especially as progressive activists push 2020 candidates to do away with the maneuver.”


-- In his Times interview, Trump repeatedly brushed off questions about his potential ties to Russia and special counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation. From the Times’s Baker and Haberman: Trump said “that his lawyers have been reassured by the departing deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, that the president himself was not a target. ‘He told the attorneys that I’m not a subject, I’m not a target,’ Mr. Trump said. But even if that is the case, it remains unknown whether the matter would be referred to the House for possible impeachment hearings. Mr. Trump added that he never spoke with Roger J. Stone Jr., his longtime associate who was indicted last week, about WikiLeaks and the stolen Democratic emails it posted during the 2016 election, nor did he direct anyone to do so. … The president dismissed the importance of the proposed Trump Tower his team was seeking to build in Moscow at the height of the 2016 campaign, and he denied his own current lawyer’s account of how late in the campaign he was still discussing the project. He also denied that his Twitter messages about former associates who are cooperating with prosecutors amount to witness tampering.”

-- Phone records challenge Democratic suspicions that Donald Trump Jr.’s mysterious phone calls ahead of the infamous Trump Tower meeting were with his father. CNN’s Pamela Brown, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report: “Records provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee show the calls were between Trump Jr. and two of his business associates, [three sources with knowledge of the matter said] … The information came to light recently and could answer one of the key questions over the meeting Trump's eldest son set up to get Russian dirt on the Clinton campaign. Trump Jr.'s phone calls involving blocked numbers -- meaning the numbers are private and do not appear in the phone records -- have been a lingering issue as investigators have probed the meeting and whether Trump himself had advance knowledge through any means that his son, son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chair Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.”

-- The FBI seized several years of Roger Stone’s communications when agents raided his Florida home last week. NBC News’s Julia Ainsley and Charlie Gile report: “Mueller's prosecutors, in a new court filing, described the evidence as ‘voluminous and complex’ in asking a judge to delay his trial to give them more time to sift through the seized devices. The court papers said investigators grabbed hard drives containing several terabytes of information, including ‘FBI case reports, search warrant applications and results (e.g., Apple iCloud accounts and email accounts), bank and financial records, and the contents of numerous physical devices (e.g., cellular phones, computers, and hard drives).’”

-- The GOP megadonors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson contributed $500,000 to a legal-defense fund for Trump aides involved in Mueller’s probe. Politico’s Maggie Severns reports: “The Adelsons each contributed $250,000 on Oct. 1 to the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust, which was set up last year to help campaign aides pay for legal bills related to the investigation. The donation came during the height of the midterm elections, when the Adelsons were also the largest contributors to the Republican Party's political campaigns and committees, shelling out more than $100 million in support of GOP candidates.”

-- A House panel will hold a hearing next week on proposals to require presidential and vice-presidential candidates to publicly release their tax returns. Mike DeBonis reports: “The hearing of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight is scheduled for the afternoon of Feb. 7, two days after Trump visits Capitol Hill for his State of the Union address. … The hearing is a crucial first step for congressional Democrats, who have said they plan to pursue multiple avenues to force Trump to disclose his returns and also force future presidential and vice-presidential candidates to follow suit.”

-- Julian Assange’s attorney said the WikiLeaks founder’s health is deteriorating. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Nick Miller reports: “Australian diplomats have reportedly visited [Assange] in Ecuador’s embassy in London to hear firsthand about [his health]. … [Assange’s attorney] said he and his colleagues will now directly appeal to Foreign Minister Marise Payne to petition the UK government to let Assange leave the embassy for urgent medical care without being arrested.”


Trump touted a report that his son did not call him about the infamous Trump Tower meeting:

Elizabeth Warren teased a major announcement about her 2020 plans, which many expect to be her formal campaign launch:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) offered support for Trump's foreign policy amid a Senate vote to rebuke the president's agenda:

A House Democrat reacted to reports that a group of ICE detainees on a hunger strike were being force-fed:

The director of the Aspen Institute's cybersecurity program noted this of the Trump White House:

The new House speaker enjoyed her party's control of the chamber, per a Politico reporter:

The Democratic governor of Washington state, a likely 2020 candidate, got in this subtle dig against Howard Schultz, who sold the Seattle SuperSonics in 2006:

A former aide to Hillary Clinton's campaign argued Schultz's bid should not be taken seriously:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in this biting back-and-forth with the founder of the far-right website Gateway Pundit:

And The Post's former Nationals reporter reflected on Bryce Harper's possible move to San Diego:


-- “‘The man who attacked me works in your kitchen’: Victim of serial groper took justice into her own hands,” by Amy Brittain and Maura Judkis: “She was a prosecutor’s dream. After identifying the man at the crime scene, Clark was eager to speak her mind in court. She was unusually vigilant from the start, gathering her own information through police reports and court hearings.  Altogether, the man admitted to assaulting six women in the District of Columbia. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail — tailored to two-day stints that best fit his work schedule as a chef rising in prominence within Washington’s vibrant restaurant scene.”

-- “These Marines were falsely accused of war crimes. Twelve years later, they have vindication,” by Andrew deGrandpre: “A Marine veteran who fought the Pentagon for 12 years over a war-crimes case brought against him and six others will have his permanent record wiped clean, an extraordinary affirmation of his claim that their reputations were destroyed by the military’s effort to imprison the men.”

-- New York Times, “One Lawyer, One Day, 194 Felony Cases,” by Richard A. Oppel Jr. And Jugal K. Patel: “On April 27, 2017, Jack Talaska, a lawyer for the poor in Lafayette, La., had 194 felony cases. … Of the public defenders in Louisiana handling felony caseloads at that time, there were two dozen with even more clients. One had 413. The numbers alone might seem to violate the Constitution. Poor defendants in the United States have the right to a competent lawyer, and hundreds of thousands of defendants rest their hopes on someone like Mr. Talaska. But there has never been any guarantee that those lawyers would have enough time to handle their cases.”


“Trump Allies Think Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is Hiding or Dead. It Started on QAnon,” from the Daily Beast: “Top figures in the pro-Trump media are claiming Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is hiding a secret illness or is even dead, elevating a bizarre new claim from the fringe QAnon conspiracy theory. On Thursday, former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka suggested on Twitter that the Ginsburg, 85, who has cancelled public appearances since undergoing surgery to remove cancerous lung growths in late December, might be hiding a medical condition. But, Gorka tweeted, all would have to be revealed if Ginsburg appeared at the State of the Union address on Feb. 5. ‘Still no sign,’ Gorka wrote. ‘6 days left until Ruth Bader Ginsberg has to make her official appearance at @realDonaldTrump’s State of the Union.’ Asked about his tweet, Gorka told The Daily Beast to ‘go outside and lick a metal street lamp.’ Thursday’s temperature in Washington, D.C. is 18 degrees Fahrenheit.”



“Two RedState writers quit, citing pro-Trump bias,” from the Hill: “Two writers for the conservative website RedState have announced they are leaving the publication, saying they were not allowed to criticize [Trump] or his Make America Great Again (MAGA) supporters. ‘We learned personally that writers who dare to examine President Trump or the MAGA mentality are purposely suppressed in private or even publicly criticized,’ former RedState senior contributor Kimberly Ross and contributing editor Andrea Ruth wrote in a post for The Bulwark. In April, RedState fired some of its staff … The writers who were let go said they believed it was because they did not support the president. Ruth and Ross wrote that since then, there has been ‘palpable’ hostility toward anyone who speaks out against Trump. They cited as an example Ross condemning a far-right conspiracy theory claiming that a series of mail bombs sent to prominent Trump critics was actually a liberal hoax. She said the publication deleted any references to the post on social media.”



 Trump will participate in a meeting on human trafficking at the southern border and then will have lunch with Mike Pompeo. He and the first lady will later fly to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend.


“It’s hard to miss a 6-foot black man in a black hat walking out of the White House.” – Herman Cain on his visit to the White House. (Robert Costa)



-- Some snow showers this morning will likely evolve into clear skies and low temperatures tonight. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Developing this morning, snow showers and even a few periods of snow are a good bet through midday or early afternoon. This may coat much of the region. A dusting to an inch is likely most spots, but more than that is possible north and northwest. High temperatures may struggle to hit 30 degrees downtown — most of the region probably stays stuck in the 20s. … Skies continue to slowly clear, and any light evening breezes calm down by midnight. Low temperatures in the teens to perhaps the mid-20s are probable.”

-- The Wizards’ Bradley Beal was named an NBA all-star for the second year in a row. (Candace Buckner)

-- Virginia lawmakers from both parties presented their arguments about an abortion bill that has captured national attention. Laura Vozzella and Gregory S. Schneider report: “Virginia Republicans doubled down Thursday on their effort to paint Gov. Ralph Northam and other Democrats as radicals who favor infanticide, a sharp shift in political strategy after years of trying to minimize socially divisive issues to win back suburban voters. And Democrats, who helped create the furor through missteps and unclear statements, also dug in on abortion, trying to paint Republicans as extremists looking to meddle in women’s health care.”

-- The GAO said in a report that Metro fails to adequately prioritize system safety when making spending decisions. Robert McCartney reports: “Metro also lacks a complete inventory describing the condition of its physical assets, including track, tunnels, bridges and communications equipment, the study said. And although the GAO found that Metro has made significant progress in reducing incidents caused by track defects and electrical fires, it has not adequately studied the risk posed by non­electrical track fires, which account for nearly a third of all fires in the system.”


A Virginia state legislator explained her abortion bill, which has been excoriated on the right:

Shops in the United Arab Emirates are preparing for Pope Francis's upcoming visit by stocking pope-themed merchandise:

Shops across the United Arab Emirates are selling themed t-shirts, hats, statues and candles ahead of Pope Francis's Feb. 3 visit to Abu Dhabi. (Reuters)

And several bats interrupted an NBA game between the Spurs and the Nets in San Antonio: