With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Time and time again, President Trump has campaigned like a populist but governed like a plutocrat. That’s why it’s more important to watch what his administration is doing than to listen to what he said during the State of the Union.

“The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda,” Trump declared on Tuesday night at the top of his 82-minute speech. Promising a “new era of cooperation,” he sounded at moments like a Republican in Name Only. Lines like these could very easily have been delivered by Barack Obama:

  • “I am proud to be the first president to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave,” he said.
  • “I know that the Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill, and I am eager to work with you.”
  • “The next major priority for me, and for all of us, should be to lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs and to protect patients with preexisting conditions. … I am asking the Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients.”
  • “My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years. Together, we will defeat AIDS in America.”
  • “Tonight, I am also asking you to join me in another fight that all Americans can get behind: the fight against childhood cancer.”
  • “As part of our commitment to improving opportunity for women everywhere, this Thursday we are launching the first-ever government-wide initiative focused on economic empowerment for women in developing countries.”

-- “If the State of the Union address really articulated the policy stances of the administration, we would be talking about Trump’s triangulation,” observes National Review’s Jim Geraghty. “On paper, the Trump administration and Congressional Democrats could find common ground and compromise on any of those policy priorities.”

-- But few lawmakers, in either party, take what Trump said on Tuesday literally or seriously. After all, this was the third time he’s addressed a joint session of Congress. They remember that he called last year for paid family leave and $1.5 trillion of new infrastructure spending, but nothing came of either priority. They also know that he’s gotten high marks for paeans to bipartisanship only to revert to name-calling the next day. In this case, Trump ripped Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer repeatedly during the hours before the speech.

-- If you care more about reality than rhetoric, the Trump administration handed a big win to payday lenders yesterday that could hurt millions of low-income Americans each year. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, led by Trump appointee Kathy Kraninger, proposed significantly weakening Obama-era rules that were written to make it harder for payday lenders to trap the poor in a cycle of debt. “Under the existing rule, set to take effect in August, payday lenders would be required to take several steps to ensure borrowers can afford the loans they are being offered,” Renae Merle reports. “The latest proposals would rescind that requirement and delay the rule’s implementation until 2020. … Payday lenders aggressively lobbied lawmakers to block the rule last year and when that failed turned their attention to convincing the CFPB to change course. …

“Under the Trump administration, the CFPB has softened its approach. It dropped several lawsuits against payday lenders last year and stripped enforcement powers from its fair lending office. While the loans are usually small, $350 to $500, they come with potential interest rates of 300 percent or more. About 12 million people take out such loans each year … The CFPB rule, finalized in 2017, was the first significant federal effort to regulate payday lenders and took more than five years to develop. When Trump appointee Mick Mulvaney took control of the bureau as acting director last year, the CFPB began to reconsider the regulations.” Mulvaney is now White House chief of staff.

-- Trump’s feel-good talk in the State of the Union about paid family leave, prescription drug prices and preexisting conditions polls well, but he didn’t say it in a vacuum. In the same speech, he spoke in dark terms about immigrants, suggested Democrats are trying to push the country down a ruinous path toward socialism and called for curtailing women’s reproductive rights.

-- House Democrats, for their part, also just won their biggest gains since Watergate in the midterms, thanks almost entirely to the president’s unpopularity. Many of these newly elected members don’t want to cooperate with someone they portrayed as a corrupt villain during the campaign.

-- Even if Trump was sincere about working in good faith with Democrats, the president has made life harder for himself by burning so many bridges. He forced a government shutdown on Dec. 21, when Republicans still controlled both chambers of Congress, in a futile attempt to get money for his border wall. After that gambit failed, he’s now threatening to declare a national emergency so that he can divert funds that have been appropriated by Congress for other purposes, such as hurricane relief for Puerto Rico or military construction. This would face certain legal challenges. As a result of the 35-day shutdown, Trump has also missed the statutory deadline to submit a budget proposal to Congress — the budget he promises will call for eliminating HIV and curing cancer.

-- Trump has earned a reputation among leaders of both parties — in the Senate and House — as an unreliable negotiating partner who moves the goal posts. In Tuesday’s speech, Trump ad-libbed a line that wasn’t in his prepared remarks. He claimed that he wants to welcome legal immigrants “in the largest numbers ever.” In fact, Trump has demanded major reductions to the number of legal immigrants allowed in. A year ago, when Democrats offered a compromise proposal that would have given him his wall, he said no because it didn’t include dramatic cuts to legal immigration.

-- The most newsworthy section of the State of the Union was Trump’s Nixonian warning that “ridiculous partisan investigations” would hurt the economy and imperil bipartisan cooperation. “With Thursday hearings scheduled on presidential tax returns and family separations at the Mexican border, and a Friday session to question acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, the lights are about to shine brightly on a president who has, until now, faced little examination from a Republican Congress,” Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim report. “But Democrats are moving carefully after spending weeks forming their committees, hiring staff and laying the groundwork for coming probes — mindful that Trump is eager to turn their investigations into a political boomerang as his critics demand swift action to uncover various alleged misdeeds.”

The president is lashing out at Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) after the Intelligence Committee he chairs opened a fresh investigation into Trump’s foreign business entanglements. When a Fox News reporter asked about this yesterday, the president initially pretended that he doesn’t know who Schiff is. Then he called him a “political hack.”

Schiff pledged that he will not be deterred by such invective. The former federal prosecutor said his team will investigate “credible reports of money laundering and financial compromise” involving the president’s companies and associates. Karoun Demirjian reports: “He outlined a five-point plan for the committee’s investigation, encompassing Russia’s election interference and the question of whether foreign governments have leverage over Trump, his relatives or associates. Schiff indicated the panel uncovered evidence of such vulnerabilities while under Republican leadership but neglected to pursue it. … The committee published its investigative plan after members voted unanimously Wednesday to give special counsel Robert S. Mueller III copies of all the interviews the committee conducted during its GOP-led probe.”

-- Teleprompter Trump never lasts for two main reasons: His choreographed speeches often don’t fully reflect his true feelings, and he lacks the self-discipline required to stay on message. As widely expected, Twitter Trump has returned with a vengeance this morning.

From Tuesday night’s speech: “We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock the extraordinary promise of America's future.”

From Twitter, just 36 hours later:

Somewhere in Kalorama, I imagine, Obama is chuckling right now at the absurd claim that House Republicans didn’t investigate him.

The Daily 202's BIG IDEA> Get James' insight into Washington every weekday on your smart speaker or favorite podcast player.
Subscribe on Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and other podcast players.
 
Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning briefing for decision-makers.
Sign up to receive the newsletter.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The Justice Department will investigate Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s role in securing a lenient plea deal for alleged serial sexual abuser Jeffrey Epstein. While serving as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Acosta negotiated a remarkably soft punishment for a multimillionaire who has been accused of abusing more than 100 underage girls. (Miami Herald)

  2. Four women have now accused former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias of sexual misconduct in the past 48 hours. Eleonora Antillón said that Arias sexually assaulted her when she was a young press aide in 1986 and that the experience later derailed her promising career as a talk show host. (New York Times)

  3. Former congressman John Dingell (D-Mich.) is in hospice care after a cancer diagnosis. Dingell’s family said he was diagnosed a year ago with prostate cancer that has metastasized. He was the longest-serving member of Congress when he retired in 2015 after 59 years. (Detroit News)

  4. Health experts fear a measles outbreak in Washington state could quickly spread. Almost a quarter of school-age children in Clark County are not vaccinated against the highly contagious respiratory virus, causing a dangerous situation that officials warn could rapidly spiral out of control. (Lena H. Sun and Maureen O'Hagan)

  5. Research indicates that the Earth is as warm now as it was 115,000 years ago — but that sea levels are much lower than they were then. Scientists believe oceans were 20 to 30 feet higher during this ancient period. They are now debating how that occurred and how soon it might happen again. (Chris Mooney)

  6. Denver teachers are preparing to go on strike Monday after the state announced it would not intervene in a labor dispute between the city’s public school system and the teachers association. The teachers are demanding a pay raise, claiming some educators make so little that they are forced to work second jobs. (Valerie Strauss)

  7. Highway workers discovered a woman’s body inside a red suitcase near a quiet neighborhood in Greenwich, Conn. Authorities said they have not identified the women, but they are investigating her death as a homicide. (Katie Mettler)

  8. Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson denied claims she plagiarized in her new book “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts.” “All I can tell you is I certainly didn’t plagiarize in my book, and there’s 70 pages of footnotes showing where I got the information,” Abramson told Fox News host Martha MacCallum after a Twitter thread highlighted several passages that bore striking resemblance to other sources. (Michael Brice-Saddler)

  9. Major League Baseball is considering some of the most drastic rules changes for baseball in years. The proposals include making the designated hitter universal across both leagues and multiple measures meant to shorten games, including a 20-second pitch clock. (Dave Sheinin)

CHAOS IN THE COMMONWEALTH:

-- Virginia’s top three Democratic leaders are all embroiled in scandals this morning that threaten to end their political careers after Attorney General Mark Herring disclosed that he appeared in blackface during college. Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella report from a reeling Richmond: “The drama pervaded the state capital on one of the busiest days of the General Assembly, with emotional meetings behind closed doors and at least one lawmaker in tears. Two of the central players hid from public view, while the third, [Lt. Gov. Justin] Fairfax, had no choice but to stand for hours on the dais of the Senate because of his job responsibilities. When they ended, he slipped away. … Just as political leaders were trying to digest the Herring news, the woman who has accused Fairfax of sexual assault made her first public statement, going into graphic detail about an alleged 2004 attack that Fairfax has vehemently denied.

“While there was almost universal condemnation of [Gov. Ralph] Northam over the weekend after a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced, the calls for his resignation paused Wednesday amid the new revelations about Herring and the intensifying Fairfax allegations. The Legislative Black Caucus, an influential group of Democrats who on Saturday had called for Northam to resign, went silent Wednesday. Republicans seemed unsure how to react. While the state party called on Herring to step down, it said nothing about Fairfax. ...

The statement from Fairfax’s accuser, Vanessa Tyson, about an alleged sexual assault in Boston in 2004, ricocheted around Capitol Square. Some lawmakers who couldn’t read the small type on a phone had an aide print it out and enlarge it for them. And that was only hours after they had seen the statement from Herring, in which he admitted to darkening his skin to dress as rapper Kurtis Blow for a 1980 college party when he was 19. ‘It sounds ridiculous even now writing it,’ Herring said in his statement. ‘But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes — and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others — we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup.’ …

The furor over his fellow Democrats fed Northam’s impulse to stay put for now, according to two people familiar with his thinking … If Northam should step down, Fairfax would succeed him, and Herring would be next in line. The governor increasingly believes he should hang on at least through the end of the General Assembly session on Feb. 23 because stepping down now with such chaos at the executive level would create too much uncertainty regarding the budget and hundreds of pieces of pending legislation, the people said.”

-- If Northam, Herring and Fairfax all vacate their offices, then the Republican speaker of the state House, Kirk Cox, would be next in line to take over as governor. Cox put out a cautious statement yesterday afternoon that stopped short of telling Herring or Fairfax to resign, but he said that the AG's behavior was “shocking” and that the allegations against the LG are “extremely serious.”

-- Tyson said she chose to come forward with her account of the alleged assault after Fairfax described their encounter as “consensual.” Samantha Schmidt, Fenit Nirappil and Laura Vozzella report: “Tyson said she met Fairfax on the first day of the 2004 Democratic National Convention and the pair soon realized they had a mutual friend. On the third day of the event, Tyson said Fairfax suggested she accompany him to his hotel room to pick up some documents. It was in that hotel room, she says, that he began to kiss her. ‘Although surprised by his advance, it was not unwelcome and I kissed him back,’ she said. But then, she says, he forced her to perform oral sex as she cried. ‘Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcefully pushed my head towards his crotch,’ she said.” Fairfax denied the allegation in a statement, saying: “Reading Dr. Tyson’s account is painful. I have never done anything like what she suggests.”

-- A double shot of deja vu: Tyson has hired the team that represented Christine Blasey Ford from the law firm Katz, Marshall & Banks, while Fairfax retained the lawyers that represented Brett Kavanaugh at Wilkinson Walsh Eskovitz after the allegations against him were made. 

-- Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the dean of the Virginia congressional delegation, learned of Tyson’s allegation over a year ago. ABC News’s Kaitlyn Folmer and John Verhovek report: “Aides to Scott confirm ... that Tyson first reached out him in an e-mail on October 20, 2017, expressing that she was ‘not a fan’ of then-candidate for Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. … In a text message exchange between Scott and Tyson in December 2017, she informed him that the now-Lieutenant Governor-Elect had a ‘MeToo allegation,’ but at the time the congressman did not know that she was the accuser, according to aides. In late December 2017 and early January 2018, aides to Scott said he learned that it was Tyson herself who was involved in a ‘MeToo allegation,’ concerning Fairfax.”

-- The escalating scandals have shattered Virginia Democrats’ expectations that they could take control of both houses of the General Assembly this fall. Paul Schwartzman reports: “The nature of the controversies — two involving racially offensive imagery, the other an alleged sexual assault — seem likely to alienate African American and female voters, two of the party’s core constituencies. ... Democrats said it is too early to predict what will happen in November. They pointed, perhaps as a source of comfort, to scandals that did not result in parties losing power, such as when then-Gov. Mark Sanford (R) of South Carolina acknowledged an extramarital affair.”

A surreal scene: “Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a former missionary and the 2016 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, [was] asked by a reporter Wednesday whether he had ‘ever worn blackface.’ ‘No,’ the senator replied, ‘I never have, never have. I grew up in Kansas City and it just wasn’t something that was done.’”

-- The Washington Post’s Editorial Board, which endorsed Northam in his primary race and general election, calls on the governor to resignNortham “can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia who elected him. His shifting and credulity-shredding explanations for the racist photograph on his medical school yearbook page, and the silence into which he then succumbed for days — after initially promising to do ‘the hard work’ of atonement and apology to restore his standing with Virginians — is simply too much. … In the case of Mr. Northam, the circumstances are decisive; what’s done cannot be undone. He must go.”

-- Every vote counts! Remember that coin toss to determine the winner of a Virginia House seat? It could come back to haunt Democrats if Northam, Fairfax and Herring all step aside. From Philip Bump: “At the end of the night on Election Day [in 2017], it wasn’t clear which party would control [the Virginia House of Delegates]. Ultimately, it came down to one seat, Virginia’s 94th District, where Democrat Shelly Simonds emerged from a recount with a one-vote margin over the incumbent Del. David E. Yancey (R). … A panel of judges determined that a vote that had been discarded should be given to Yancey, resulting in a tie. How to resolve the tie? By drawing names from a ceramic bowl. Both names were placed in the bowl, Yancey’s was picked, and Republicans retained control of the chamber. And Cox got to be speaker. And now Cox is third in line to the governorship.”

FOLLOW THE MONEY:

-- Republican operative Paul Erickson, the boyfriend of Russian agent Maria Butina and the manager of Pat Buchanan's 1992 presidential campaign, was indicted on charges related to an alleged investment fraud scheme. Devlin Barrett and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “The new charges against Erickson are not connected to Russia. He is charged in an 11-count indictment with wire fraud and money laundering by raising money from investors for what prosecutors say were false claims about a company that would build senior residential care facilities. Erickson also scammed investors by claiming to be developing a wheelchair that allowed people to go to the bathroom without being lifted out of the chair, according to the indictment. …One of the money transfers listed in the indictment as an instance of money laundering is a $20,472 payment Erickson made in June 2017 to American University — the school Butina attended.He pleaded not guilty.

-- Newly uncovered details show that Sergei Millian, identified as one of the sources for the Steele dossier, had more access to Trump associates during the 2016 campaign than previously known. Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger report: “Around the time of [Trump’s] inauguration, two of his supporters met to toast the new administration at the Russia House, a Washington restaurant known among Russian diplomats and emigres for its vodka and caviar. The Dupont Circle spot was suggested by Sergei Millian, according to onetime Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who said he met with the Belarus-born businessman there. The get-together followed months of outreach Millian had made to the young aide — including offering him a lucrative consulting contract to work simultaneously for Trump and an unidentified Russian, which Papadopoulos said he rebuffed. …

As he was working to build a relationship with Papadopoulos in 2016, Millian also offered to serve as a conduit to the Trump campaign for a Belarusan author in Florida with connections to the Russian government, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post. The author, Mikhail Morgulis, who said he never ended up hearing from anyone in the campaign, later claimed that he rallied Russian Americans to back Trump. The new details deepen the persistent mystery surrounding Millian, two years after he was identified as one of the unnamed sources in a campaign dossier Steele compiled for Democrats about Trump’s ties to Russia.”

-- The investigation of the president’s inaugural committee has raised questions about why Imaad Zuberi, a venture capitalist who donated more than $600,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, rapidly transformed himself into a Trump supporter. Rosalind S. Helderman, Michael Kranish and Tom Hamburger report: “The inquiry has put a spotlight on a prolific donor with extensive foreign ties — particularly in the Middle East — who has doled out millions to politicians over the past 15 years, according to campaign finance records. … With his wife, Willa Rao, he donated more than $2 million to Democratic candidates and committees between 2004 and 2016, sums that put him in the upper echelon of fundraisers for Obama and Hillary Clinton. Since Trump’s election, the couple’s giving has flipped: They have contributed $1.78 million to Republicans and just $206,000 to Democrats, records show.”

-- A Ukrainian-Russian developer said Trump wanted $20 million in 2006 for his name to be used on a tower in Moscow. Bloomberg News’s Stephanie Baker reports: Pavel Fuks “said he hosted Trump’s children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., in Moscow in 2006 to discuss the project after meeting with the elder Trump several times in the U.S. By his account, Fuks offered to pay Trump $10 million in installments, but Trump demanded $20 million up front for the right to use the Trump name on a Moscow development. ‘He said $20 million is nothing,’ Fuks recalled. ‘I said, no, it’s a lot of money. We couldn’t agree.’”

-- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is in talks to testify before the House Financial Services Committee about the controversial deal to ease sanctions on the businesses controlled by Vladimir Putin pal Oleg Deripaska. Politico’s Zachary Warmbrodt and Andrew Desiderio report: Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) “called on Mnuchin to testify amid complaints by Democrats that Treasury failed to deliver documents they requested regarding the department's decision to lift penalties targeting the billionaire Russian oligarch. Waters and Mnuchin spoke by phone Wednesday and are working to find a ‘mutually agreeable date’ for him to appear before the committee, a Treasury spokesperson said. In the interim, Treasury is in the process of responding to the document request, according to the spokesperson.”

-- Documents from Trump’s D.C. hotel show T-Mobile executives have booked at least 52 nights at the hotel since it requested approval for a mega-merger with Sprint. Jonathan O'Connell, David A. Fahrenthold and Mike DeBonis report: “The revelations come as political scrutiny of the proposed deal is mounting on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) issued letters demanding information about the T-Mobile executives’ stays and whether Trump was informed of them. The issue is likely to come up at House subcommittee hearings on the merger next week. … [One Trump hotel] document showed that when [CEO John] Legere stayed at Trump’s hotel for two nights last month, his room had a rate of $2,246 per night.

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- The bipartisan committee working to craft a deal on border security edged closer to a compromise that would avert a government shutdown next week. But there is no guarantee Trump will back it. Erica Werner, John Wagner, Mike DeBonis and Elise Viebeck report: The committee “traded offers behind the scenes, with Democrats saying money for border barriers was on the table and Republicans acknowledging they won’t get Trump the $5.7 billion he has sought for his wall. Lawmakers hope to have a tentative deal by Friday or soon thereafter, to allow time for the legislation to pass the House and Senate by Feb. 15. … Few on Capitol Hill are eager to prolong the uncertainty by passing yet another stopgap spending bill.Inside the Capitol, there is cautious optimism that the conference committee, which is stacked with experienced negotiators from both parties, can reach a deal. But members acknowledge they cannot be certain that Trump will support their product, especially after his change of heart in late December.”

-- Nancy Pelosi predicted the government would not shut down again. Politico’s Heather Caygle, Sarah Ferris and John Bresnahan report: “‘There will not be another shutdown,’ Pelosi confidently asserted during a half-hour interview Wednesday in her Capitol office. ‘No, it’s not going to happen.’ ‘I have a club that I started, it’s called the ‘Too Hot to Handle Club.’ And this is a too-hot-to-handle issue,’ Pelosi quipped. Pelosi said she believes a bipartisan House-Senate panel negotiating on border security will come to an agreement before the Feb. 15 funding deadline. And she pledged to support any deal that emerges from those talks, even as she remains firm that there won’t be new money for Trump’s wall.”

-- Figures from the Pentagon indicate Trump’s deployment of troops to the border could cost up to $1 billion by the end of the fiscal year. Paul Sonne reports: “That estimate comes from combining figures the Department of Defense has released and estimates from outside experts to fill in the gaps. … All told, the cost of the deployments would approach $1 billion at the minimum estimate by the end of September, as long as the troop presence and activity level aren’t altered significantly. The figure is within the range of at least one past deployment. President George W. Bush deployed up to 6,000 National Guard troops to border states during Operation Jump Start from 2006 to 2008 at a cost of $1.2 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office.”

-- Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced it would move 250 active-duty troops to Texas in advance of the arrival of a new migrant caravan. NBC News’s Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee report: “The move reflects [Trump's] mention of a ‘human wall,’ but comes amid increasing frustration among Pentagon leaders with the continued border requests from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Under the new directive, the troops will be moved from Arizona to Texas and — in a sign of the Pentagon's frustrations — will not represent an increase in the overall number of U.S. troops assigned to the border mission.”

-- Inaccurate claims by state officials in Texas that as many as 58,000 noncitizens may have voted underscore how some Republicans have exaggerated allegations of voter fraud in recent years. Amy Gardner reports: “In North Carolina, legislative leaders said in 2014 that more than 10,000 suspected noncitizens were registered to vote, but state election officials found that number was vastly overstated and determined that only 11 noncitizens voted that fall. In Florida in 2012, a list of 180,000 possible noncitizens ultimately led to the removal of 85 voters from the rolls. Similar claims have been made in Colorado, Indiana and Kansas.”

-- Correction: A photo of lawmakers watching Trump deliver the State of the Union, which appeared above the immigration wars section in yesterday’s edition, was taken during last year’s speech. Thanks to the many eagle-eyed readers who noticed because Ted Cruz didn’t have a beard and Scott Pruitt was sitting among the Cabinet secretaries.

2020 WATCH:

-- “At least three people have withdrawn from consideration to lead Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s nascent 2020 presidential campaign — and done so in part because of the Minnesota Democrat’s history of mistreating her staff,” HuffPost’s Molly Redden and Amanda Terkel report in a new story ahead of her expected announcement on Sunday. “Some former Klobuchar staffers, all of whom spoke … on condition of anonymity, describe Klobuchar as habitually demeaning and prone to bursts of cruelty that make it difficult to work in her office for long. … Klobuchar’s office consistently has one of the highest rates of staff turnover in the Senate. From 2001 to 2016, she ranked No. 1 in the Senate for staff turnover as measured by LegiStorm. …

It is common for staff to wake up to multiple emails from Klobuchar characterizing one’s work as ‘the worst’ briefing or press release she’d seen in her decades of public service, according to two former aides and emails … Although some staffers grew inured to her constant put-downs (‘It’s always “the worst,”’ one said sarcastically, ‘It was “the worst” one two weeks ago’), others found it grinding and demoralizing. Adding to the humiliation, Klobuchar often cc’d large groups of staffers who weren’t working on the topic at hand, giving the emails the effect of a public flogging.

A former employee in her Senate office recalled her struggling to find an outside candidate to replace an outgoing chief of staff. A staffer in another Hill office recounted losing interest in a job opening with Klobuchar when a current staffer, the one conducting the interview, conveyed that avoiding Klobuchar’s anger was a significant part of the job. … Three former staffers said Klobuchar has tasked them or their co-workers with performing personal errands, such as making her personal appointments, washing dishes at her home or picking up her dry cleaning.

The reality of working for Klobuchar is at odds with the Midwestern-nice image she has cultivated in public … One morning several years ago, when most of the office staff was running late … Klobuchar wrote out tardy slips and placed them on each missing aide’s desk. The staffer recalls incredulous bursts of laughter as her co-workers arrived one by one to find the notes, but Klobuchar was deadly serious. An aide whom she called into her office walked back out in tears. ‘She was constantly lighting new fires,’ a former staffer said, sometimes at the expense of focusing on legislative work.”

-- The revelation that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) identified herself as “American Indian” on a 1986 bar registration card has resuscitated an issue she has repeatedly tried to put to rest. Annie Linskey and Amy Gardner report: “For Democrats, the issue was long eclipsed by anger at Trump’s ridicule of Warren, especially his use of the nickname ‘Pocahontas.’ But Warren’s presidential run, coming as she has struggled to explain her past claims of Native American identity, has prompted some Democrats to take a harder look at her own actions. The matter now threatens to overshadow the image Warren has sought to foster of a truth-telling consumer advocate who would campaign for the White House as a champion for the working class. Instead, she is now seeking to combat the portrait of someone who for years was insufficiently sensitive to a long-oppressed minority.”

-- The time Beto O’Rourke spent in New York in his early 20s, when he was somewhat rootless and depressed about his lack of meaningful work, reflect his presidential deliberations now. The New York Times’s Matt Flegenheimer reports: “By late 1995, Mr. O’Rourke had fallen into the deepest depression he can remember. He worked for an uncle’s tech business because it was a job. He spent nights alone listening to his cassettes because it passed the time. … Mr. O’Rourke’s New York chapter has stood as the unlikely forerunner to his political rise, laying bare the unusual path that led him to national politics and the who-should-I-be self-reflection that has come to define his presidential deliberations. … Then, as now, he appeared less concerned with political ideology than the pursuit of authentic experiences and a sense of community, an instinct that has frustrated some progressive voters who question Mr. O’Rourke’s policy convictions.”

-- Top Democrats in early-voting states say they have not heard anything from Joe Biden or his allies. BuzzFeed News’s Henry J. Gomez reports: “Biden’s plans remain a mystery to state and county party chairs, as well as other prominent activists ... Many said they’re not even in touch with close advisers or allies who would have to spring to action if and when Biden announces. … Activists in Iowa, which will hold the first caucuses in less than a year, stressed that Biden is well-liked there and that many Democrats are likely to wait to see what he does before pledging support to another candidate. But the lack of contact leaves them with little more than gossip.”

-- Biden has been reaching out to his former congressional colleagues about his 2020 prospects. Politico’s Burgess Everett and Heather Caygle report: “Biden has an established fan base among Democratic lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, where he served for 36 years. The outreach indicates that Biden is looking to lock down establishment support on the front end of a campaign to give him an edge in a splintered field. On Sunday, Biden spoke by phone with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has said publicly she’d back him if he decides to run. Biden signaled that he was sketching out both a campaign apparatus and spoke with urgency about the race, Feinstein said in an interview. ‘I think we’ll hear from him within a month,’ Feinstein said.

-- Since his 2016 presidential bid, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has worked to bolster his foreign policy chops with the help of a key staffer, Matt Duss. The Nation’s David Klion reports: “In his 2016 campaign, Sanders’s primary focus was on domestic economic issues, and many critics regarded him as a lightweight on foreign policy. This time around, Sanders has won over skeptics in the foreign-policy establishment with substantive speeches in 2017 and 2018, laying out a comprehensive vision for America’s role in the world. Beyond wanting to end or prevent wars in the Middle East, Sanders has also linked the global rise of authoritarian populism to wealth inequality, and has called for an international progressive movement to combat authoritarian leaders and kleptocrats from Russia to Brazil. And while Duss doesn’t want to take credit for what he says are his boss’s deeply held views, he has had a hand in all of this.”

-- Rep. Carolyn Maloney cast doubt on whether one of her fellow New York Democrats, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, could win a presidential general election. “I'm not supporting her because I feel, at this point, I feel that we have to win Ohio and Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin,” Maloney said. “And if we win Ohio, we win the presidency, in my belief. So I am very interested in candidates that I believe can win Ohio.” She added, “I'm focused on who can win Ohio. I want to win. I don't want to lose. I want to win.” Maloney later appeared to somewhat backtrack. “Kirsten Gillibrand is an outstanding Senator and would be an exceptional President,” she said in a statement. “I was simply commenting on the importance of winning back previously blue states and having a strategy for doing so.” (New York Daily News)

-- The president will address the National Prayer Breakfast today, where he is expected to play up the promises he has kept to conservative evangelicals. Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Julie Zauzmer report: “Whenever he takes the stage in front of conservative Christians, Trump uses those opportunities to remind them of his promises, like appointing Supreme Court justices who could help overturn Roe v. Wade and making ‘Merry Christmas’ a more common greeting during the holidays. … For the past two years, Trump has used the [National Prayer Breakfast] speech to reiterate the promises he has made that speak to a core concern among many conservative Christians: that their influence is waning and that their livelihoods could even come under attack.”

-- Trump’s reelection campaign is talking to potential communications staffers to prepare for attacks from Democratic candidates. CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reports: “Trump's team has been interviewing dozens of candidates for positions ranging from communications director to press secretary, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. Some candidates who have discussed jobs with the campaign currently work in the White House, according to the sources, who declined to be named. The campaign is expected to officially announce the new additions in the coming weeks, one source said.”

-- CNN will host a town hall with Howard Schultz next week. He will take questions from Texas voters in Houston on Tuesday. (CNN)

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- The United States is scaling back its security assistance to Cameroon over allegations of human rights violations against the country’s military. Siobhán O'Grady reports: “Cameroon is a key U.S. security partner, and about 300 U.S. troops are based there to train and assist the Cameroonian military, including in its fight against extremism in its far northern region. Human rights groups have reported that Cameroonian security forces have targeted civilians, in the far north and in the country’s unstable southwest and northwest regions, where the military is battling English-speaking separatists fighting to create a breakaway nation called Ambazonia.”

-- The conflict between Cameroon’s French and English speakers has already resulted in the deaths of hundreds. Siobhán O'Grady reports: “Around 80 percent of the country speaks French; the rest speaks English. For decades, Francophones and Anglophones lived in relative harmony. But over the past two years, violence spurred by this linguistic split has brought Cameroon to the brink of civil war. … The government claims armed English-speaking separatists who want to create a new nation called Ambazonia have terrorized civilians and attacked government forces, prompting the military to retaliate against them. But in more than a dozen interviews, English speakers displaced by military raids on their villages recounted how Cameroonian troops opened fire on unarmed civilians and burned down their homes.”

-- U.S. and North Korean officials are still negotiating about where Trump and Kim Jong Un will meet in Vietnam. David Nakamura, John Hudson and Anne Gearan report: “U.S. officials are pushing for Danang, a coastal resort city Trump visited in November 2017 for a regional economic summit. Relatively isolated, Danang offers better security planning and keeps the focus squarely on the tough nuclear negotiations. The North Koreans, however, have their sights set on Hanoi, the bustling northern capital, which could afford Kim an opportunity to hold a separate bilateral meeting with the Vietnamese leadership. That would continue his dramatic coming-out party on the world stage; in addition to Trump, Kim has met over the past year with the leaders of South Korea, China and Singapore.”

-- Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro blocked humanitarian aid shipments as he fights to hold on to power, prompting a rebuke from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mariana Zuñiga reports: “The United States, which has called for Maduro’s ouster and recognized National Assembly head Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, has been coordinating with other countries in the region to deliver food and other provisions to Venezuela for the benefit of the people. But on Wednesday, ahead of anticipated aid shipments, a bridge that would have been an entry point into Venezuela from Colombia was blocked by a tanker truck and two shipping containers placed horizontally across its lanes.”

-- Juan Guaidó plans to name a new board for Citgo in an effort to deprive Maduro’s regime of oil revenue. The Wall Street Journal’s Jessica Donati, Ian Talley and Andrew Scurria report: “The company, a major U.S. refinery, is owned by state oil giant Petróleos de Venezuela SA. Citgo is being forced to consider the possibility of bankruptcy and other contingency plans in the fight for control of Venezuela’s assets. … The effort to set up a new Citgo board, however, faces potential legal, diplomatic and logistical complications. Citgo executives aligned with the U.S. have been in intensive talks with legal advisers, Guaidó officials and the Trump administration to work out a plan to prevent a major disruption in operations, according to people familiar with the matter.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) sparked outrage after he used a congressional hearing on gun violence to call for the construction of a wall and to suggest that two fathers of children who died during the Parkland shooting should be removed from the committee room.

“The panel was discussing H.R. 8, a bipartisan measure introduced in the House last month that would require background checks for all gun sales and most gun transfers,” Felicia Sonmez reports. “‘As we hear the stories and circumstances for those here, I hope we do not forget the pain and anguish and sense of loss felt by those all over the country who have been the victims of violence at the hands of illegal aliens,’ Gaetz said. … Two Parkland fathers, Manuel Oliver and Fred Guttenberg, were seated in the audience. Oliver, who lost his son Joaquin in the shooting, stood up and protested Gaetz’s remarks; Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed, also spoke out. … Later, Gaetz pointed his finger at Oliver and Guttenberg, asking whether there is a committee process that calls for audience members to be ejected for repeatedly interrupting members.”

Republicans, meanwhile, were outraged that Democrats didn't allow testimony from House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who opposes new gun-control laws even after he got shot in Alexandria:

Rep. Jennifer Wexton, the freshman Democrat who defeated Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) last year, said she believes Justin Fairfax's accuser:

From a professor at the University of Texas in Austin:

The New York Post lampooned the political turmoil:

The Democratic woman who lost to Fairfax in the 2017 lieutenant governor primary responded to the cover:

A reporter for D.C.'s NBC affiliate who has been camped out in Richmond shared this photo:

A Post reporter recalled this 2017 photo from a rally Obama held for Northam, Fairfax and Herring:

A HuffPost reporter pointed out the unexpected nature of the Virginia controversies:

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who is married to John Dingell, thanked friends as her husband entered hospice care:

In characteristic fashion, John Dingell offered this plucky message:

Beto O'Rourke challenged the claims Trump made about El Paso in his speech:

A Washington Examiner editor added this:

A Democratic senator explained her reaction to Trump's State of the Union:

The top general in charge of the National Guard called himself out for his State of the Union outfit:

The president's son criticized the female Democratic lawmakers who wore white in honor of suffragists to the State of the Union:

The chairwoman of the House Republican Conference added this:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) slammed a Wall Street Journal columnist who described her as “sullen”:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) lambasted the Venezuelan president's tactics as he fights to hold on to power:

The actress Marlee Matlin spotted a familiar face:

And a Republican senator received an angry message in unique packaging: 

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- USA Today, “Death rates, bedsores, ER wait times: Where every VA hospital lags or leads other medical care,” by Donovan Slack, John Kelly and James Sergent: “At roughly 70 percent of VA hospitals, the median time between arrival and admission was longer than at other hospitals, in some cases by hours, according to a USA TODAY analysis of the department’s data. … The USA TODAY analysis provides the most comprehensive picture to date of how 146 VA medical centers compare to other health care facilities on an array of factors. … As of June 30, a majority of VA hospitals reported lower death rates than other facilities. Many VA medical centers also stacked up better on prevention of post-surgical complications such as blood clots. At the same time, dozens had higher rates of preventable infections and severe bed sores – a sign of potential neglect. And nearly every VA performed worse than other medical providers on industry-standard patient satisfaction surveys.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“‘This is not Russia,’ Rep. Elijah Cummings says in impassioned defense of voting rights,” from Felicia Sonmez: “House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings on Wednesday gave an impassioned defense of voting rights, declaring that the United States ‘is not Russia’ and sharing his mother’s deathbed plea to him on the issue. … ‘One year ago today, on my mother’s dying bed, at 92 years old — former sharecropper — her last words were, “Do not let them take our votes away from us,”’ Cummings said during Wednesday’s hearing. … ‘Voting is crucial, and I don’t give a damn how you look at it.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Sen. Manchin surprises students with phone call from Trump,” from Felicia Sonmez: “Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) surprised a group of high school students Wednesday by putting them on the phone with [Trump]. Manchin, who represents a state Trump won by more than 40 percentage points in 2016, was speaking with students from Webster County High School by video chat from his office when the president called, he said in a tweet. Trump ‘took time out of his schedule to talk to the students over speakerphone,’ Manchin said. While Manchin is a Democrat, he often backs parts of Trump’s agenda.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will address the National Prayer Breakfast this morning. He will then receive his intelligence briefing and have lunch with Mike Pompeo. He will later participate in a presidential memorandum signing to launch the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“He’s got something to hide. Because if he had nothing to hide, he’d just shrug his shoulders and let these investigations go forward. He’s afraid of them.” — Chuck Schumer reacting to Trump’s criticism of House investigations into his administration. (John Wagner)

 

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

-- It will be mild but damp in the District today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Clouds hang over the area all day, but showers are very light and scattered, making the nuisance of an umbrella a judgment call. Pockets of drizzle are more likely, especially in the morning. Winds are very light from the north, shifting to the south late in the day. Highs should hold in the mid-50s for most of the area, but a late-day spike to near 60 can’t be ruled out.”

-- The Wizards traded Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris for Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis and Wesley Johnson. Porter was sent to the Chicago Bulls, while Morris is headed to the New Orleans Pelicans. (Candace Buckner)

-- Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) defended a plan to prosecute more local gun offensives as federal crimes in a bid to curb the city’s climbing homicide rate. Paul Duggan reports: “The head of the American Civil Liberties Union in the District criticized [the plan] as ‘reactionary,’ suggesting it would aggravate the problem of mass incarceration. As Bowser spoke Wednesday, she seemed aware of the criticism, which had been echoed by others. She began her remarks by pointing out that last week, she and D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced a $6 million investment in the District’s workforce development and violence prevention efforts.”

-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and the state’s Democratic legislators are once again at odds over who should decide schools’ start dates. Ovetta Wiggins reports: “More than two years after [Hogan] ordered public schools to begin classes after Labor Day, a Senate panel has approved legislation that would let school districts determine when school starts and ends. The full Senate is expected to consider the measure for preliminary approval on Thursday.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert reacted to the latest news out of Virginia:

Seth Meyers marveled at Nancy Pelosi's sarcastic applause during the State of the Union:

The Fact Checker awarded Trump Four Pinocchios for his claims about human trafficking:

Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggested Democrat Stacey Abrams wanted to “overthrow” white men:

Howard Schultz previewed his speech at Purdue today:

Hillary Clinton criticized the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the INF Treaty during an event at Georgetown University:

And a little girl in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, sneaked through a security barrier to meet Pope Francis: