At the White House
HOW TO MANUFACTURE A CRISIS: Partially shut down the government. Issue alarmist tweets. Hold impromptu news conferences in the Rose Garden. Neuter the bargaining power of your closest, most senior advisers. Misrepresent the facts. Publicly mull declaring a national emergency. And threaten to keep some federal employees from receiving their paycheck for months — maybe even years.
These are the ingredients of what Trump has dubbed a “national emergency” over his splashy campaign vow to build a wall along the southern border — “the material embodiment of his keep-them-out immigration agenda.” But what happens when the “crisis” gives way to a real one?
- Come Jan. 11th: 800,000 federal employees will miss their first paycheck if the shutdown isn't resolved, The Post's Damian Paletta and Erica Werner report.
- Starting in February: “Food stamps for 38 million low-income Americans would face severe reductions and more than $140 billion in tax refunds are at risk of being frozen or delayed if the government shutdown stretches into February, widespread disruptions that threaten to hurt the economy,” per Paletta and Werner.
- GDP: “Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RMS U.S., an accounting and consulting firm, said a prolonged shutdown would shave an entire percentage point off the U.S.’s economic growth, in part because of an 'uncertainty tax' that would freeze spending by households and businesses,” per The Post.
- Stalled: Immigration courts have been “whittled to a skeleton staff, forcing court dates to be postponed and raising the ire of the judges already burdened by nearly 770,000 pending cases,” NBC News's Lisa Riordan Seville and Hannah Rappleye report.
- An actual problem: The Post's Nick Miroff and David Nakamura report that while lawmakers debate “an engineering project imbued with partisan emotion,” there are very real problems at the border being exacerbated by the shutdown. “Record numbers of migrant families are streaming into the United States, overwhelming border agents and leaving holding cells dangerously overcrowded with children, many of whom are falling sick. Two Guatemalan children taken into U.S. custody died in December,” per Miroff and Nakamura.
- More from the New York Times: “Much of the growing chaos, say many of those who work along the border and in some of the government’s own security agencies, is a result of a failed gamble on the part of the Trump administration that a succession of ever-harsher border policies would deter the flood of migrants coming from Central America. It has not [.]”
- TSA mass “sickout”: CNN first reported that hundreds of Transportation Security Administration officers “required to work without paychecks through the partial government shutdown, have called out from work this week from at least four major airports . . . The mass call outs could inevitably mean air travel is less secure, especially as the shutdown enters its second week with no clear end to the political stalemate in sight.”
- As federal programs expire . . .: “The Department of Housing and Urban Development sent letters to 1,500 landlords Friday as part of a last-minute effort to prevent the eviction of thousands of tenants. A lot of those tenants live in units covered by a HUD program that many agency officials didn’t realize had expired on Jan. 1 and that they are now unable to renew,” The Post reports.
The president made a new offer yesterday to Democrats aimed at ending the shutdown: sending a two-page letter to Democrats sticking to the already rejected $5.7 billion figure for 234 new miles of “steel barrier,” and $800 million for “urgent humanitarian needs,” including the influx of unaccompanied minors at the border. “Still, both sides acknowledged that they remained far apart,” report The Post's Robert Costa, Felicia Sonmez and Nick Miroff.
- On Sunday evening, Trump said the administration was “looking at a national emergency because we have a national emergency.”
- Vice President Pence, meanwhile, met with congressional staffers at the White House. Trump tweeted a brief readout: “V.P. Mike Pence and group had a productive meeting with Schumer/ Pelosi representatives today. Many Details of Border Security were discussed. We are now planning a Steel Barrier rather than concrete. It is both stronger & less obtrusive. Good solution, and made in the U.S.A.”
- “Democrats on Sunday 'pleaded again for the White House to change course and reopen government' by backing funding measures that have been passed by the House and have bipartisan support in the Senate, but Pence 'said the president would not do that,' according to the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the talks.”
But even Trump's allies are starting to believe that Trump's singular fixation on funding the wall is starting to become a liability in a myriad of ways.
- “Stupid”: The Heritage Foundation's Stephen Moore told Power Up that it's “stupid” to continue to keep the government closed over the wall: “If I were an adviser to Trump on this, I'd say, take what you can get from the Democrats now — he has to get something, some number. And reopen the government and tell people that you fought for more border funding. His supporters aren't going to say, “Oh, Trump capitulated.” Trump has made his point: he's for border security. The longer it goes on, it gets increasingly problematic for Trump.”
- “The Democrats might win the short-term battle here but in the long-term war, Trump is escalating the issue . . . Democrats don't want the 2020 election to be about immigration because it's a losing issue for them,” Moore added.
- Misplaced focus: “I’ve always thought it created a danger that he would trade almost anything in order to get the wall — I think that’s still a potential danger,” Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told the New York Times's Peter Baker and Julie Davis. “I’m still worried about that now.”
Counterpoint: Some think the consequences of the shutdown give Trump more leverage.
- “This is essentially a business deal — a game of chicken. Very rarely does Trump ever blink when he's dug so deep on an issue . . . Trump is like a honey badger. He just doesn't give a [expletive], as long as he gets what he wants,” a former White House staffer told us. “Sooner or later, the American people will turn to Congress and just ask them to fund the damn wall. They can't count on Trump budging.”
- Alex Conant, GOP partner at Firehouse Strategies: “Trump's base is unhappy after the three M's: midterms, Mattis and market fall. Manufacturing a crisis around border funding unites and excites Republicans at a time when Trump's base is softening. As long as Trump feels pressure from his base, he's going to have trouble folding on the wall.”
Where we are now: The government shut down 16 days ago, tying this lapse for the third longest shutdown on record.
On The Hill
WHAT IS TRUMP EVEN ASKING FOR ANYWAY?: Does the president want slats? Or as his team now says, a “steel barrier”? Is he looking for a “see-through” wall? Or is it really about the symbol of a wall? Trump's promise to cover 1,000 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border has been rather amorphous. Here's a quick look at how the debate has evolved:
- The wall started out as a “mnemonic device,” according to former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg, per the New York Times.
- “To be honest, it’s not a wall,” former White House chief of staff John Kelly told Molly O'Toole of the LA Times last week.
- On Dec. 18, Trump tweeted the wall is: “artistically designed steel slats, so that you can easily see through it..."
- On Dec. 21, Trump tweeted a picture of “A design of our Steel Slat Barrier which is totally effective while at the same time beautiful!”
- On Dec. 31, Trump tweeted: “An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media. Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides). Makes sense to me!”
- Last night, Trump tweeted: “We are now planning a Steel Barrier rather than concrete. It is both stronger & less obtrusive. Good solution, and made in the U.S.A.”
'I COULD GET KILLED THERE EASY': Enes Kanter, a center on the NBA's New York Knicks, won't be in the lineup when his team plays the Washington Wizards in London later this month. He won't even be in the same country. Kanter, who is Turkish and has for years been an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he's skipping the European trip because he's afraid Erdogan's agents may try to assassinate him while he's there. "The Turkish government is famous for hunting down those who oppose Erdogan," Kanter told us. "So I’m not going to risk my life by going to Europe where Erdogan’s long arms are everywhere."
Power Up talked to the 26-year-old forward about his decision to stay stateside, his politics and his message for his fans back home.
- 'This makes me the perfect target': Kanter, who has long been critical of Erdogan's rule, cited reports from Human Rights Watch and other organizations detailing Erdogan's alleged human rights abuses. Kanter said he feels it's his duty to use his platform as an NBA player to speak out: "I will always speak my mind and I will always stand by those people who are terribly oppressed in Turkey," he said. "This makes me the perfect target for the Turkish government."
- "It's something that Trump should definitely talk about," Kanter said, referring to human rights in Turkey. Kanter hasn't heard from lawmakers or the White House about visiting Washington but said "I would love to meet with them."
- Kanter is close friends with Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in exile in the United States who Erdogan blames for the failed 2016 coup attempt to oust him. The two see each other every few weeks and Kanter is passionate about Gulen's movement, which, he said, promotes secular education and fighting poverty.
- More than a game: Since he announced he won't be going to London, Kanter said he's received death threats from Erdogan supporters. In the past couple years, Kanter's relatives, many of whom still live in Turkey, have faced the repercussions of his activism. Kanter's father was jailed for a week, and Turkish authorities wanted to lock Kanter up, too. He hasn't spoken to his parents in a "very, very long time" and his social media accounts are banned in Turkey.
- But Kanter had a message for his friends, family and followers: "Just stay strong because we are fighting for democracy and human rights and we are fighting for freedom. In the end, it’s all going to be worth it."
TRUMP'S SYRIA WITHDRAWAL ON HOLD: National security adviser John Bolton announced on Sunday the U.S. withdrawal of American troops from northern Syria is contingent on Turkey's "commitment not to target the U.S.’s Kurdish allies,” the Wall Street Journal’s Vivian Salama reported from Jerusalem.
- Conditions set: “President Trump’s order to withdraw U.S. troops is a 'cause-and-effect mission' that requires certain assurances from various players in the region before it can be executed, said Mr. Bolton, the first administration official to outline the conditions for withdrawal," per Salama.
- Bolton's spin: “Timetables or the timing of the withdrawal occurs as a result of the fulfillment of the conditions and the establishment of the circumstances that we want to see,” Bolton told reporters. “It’s not the establishment of an arbitrary point for the withdrawal to take place as President Obama did in the Afghan situation … the timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”
Bolton's announcement, however, is at odds with Trump's hasty early December announcement to immediately withdraw U.S. troops from Syria without conditions, The Post's Karen DeYoung and Karoun Demirjian report.
- Despite Trump's claim that the U.S. had defeated ISIS, “Bolton acknowledged that pockets of the Islamic State remain undefeated and that a quick U.S. pullout could endanger U.S. partners and allies in the region, as well as U.S. forces themselves,” per DeYoung and Demirjian.
- Later on Sunday, Trump told reporters he still was committed to withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria. “I never said we’re doing it that quickly,” Trump told reporters. (During a visit to troops in Iraq over Christmas, Trump said that he would not allow the military to extend their time in Syria.)
- Key: Bolton's comments in Israel “were additional confirmation that withdrawal plans are on hold until conditions on the ground match the president’s stated assessment of the situation in Syria,” per The Post.
- More from DeYoung and Demirjian: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to the region this week to "reassure Arab allies that the United States will not abandon them to either the Islamic State or to Iran. Reports that the Americans were leaving, said a senior administration official who briefed reporters Friday on Pompeo’s trip, were “false news” and there was no Syria departure timeline.”
The week ahead: Bolton's next stop is Turkey and Pompeo will head to Riyadh, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait from Jan. 8th to Jan. 15th.
- A State Department official previewing Pompeo's trip told the Associated Press's Matt Lee and Zeke Miller that Pompeo's aim is to counter "'false narratives' that the U.S. is abandoning the Middle East and to make the point that Iran continues to be a threat. 'We are not going anywhere,' the official said.”
- More from the AP: “Pompeo will fly to Cairo for counter terrorism and energy cooperation talks with Egyptian officials and to give a speech on the U.S. “commitment to peace, prosperity, stability, and security in the Middle East,” the State Department said. The speech is expected to be a counterpoint to an address that President Barack Obama delivered in Cairo in 2009 in which he sought to reach out to the Muslim world.”
Outside the Beltway
2020 HAS BEGUN . . . FOR REAL THIS TIME: Possible presidential candidates are now transitioning from “looking at things” to launching campaigns. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was the first high-profile Democrat to jump in the ring, and now the New York Times is reporting that former vice president Joe Biden might be next. Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns report that Biden is “in the final stages” of deciding whether he'll run:
- Here we go: Biden “has told allies he is skeptical the other Democrats eyeing the White House can defeat [Trump], an assessment that foreshadows a clash between the veteran Washington insider and the more liberal and fresh-faced contenders for the party’s 2020 nomination.”
- Family feud: “Biden’s skepticism about the field could alienate female and minority voters who are excited that several women and African Americans are expected to run. Nominating a white man may also roil some Democrats who are already torn about whether a woman could win in 2020 after Hillary Clinton’s loss.”
- Tick tock: “Biden has indicated that he is leaning toward running and will most likely make a decision within the next two weeks.”
This weekend, all eyes were on Elizabeth Warren. At least in Iowa. The Post's Annie Linskey and Chelsea Janes went to the Hawkeye State to report on the Warren campaign's first big stop. In Sioux City, Linskey and Janes reported, Warren served up an alternative to Trumpism while hardly mentioning the president by name. More from their story:
Talking points: “For Warren, virtually every position she advocated was, in policy terms, a repudiation of the president . . . That was true from specifics — her demand that presidential candidates release their taxes, which the president has refused to do — to the generic — her repeated lament that the middle class has been hollowed out as economic and political fairness has been lost.”
A “corrupt” system: Echoing the campaign rhetoric of another progressive presidential hopeful — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — Warren told an Iowa crowd, “The heart of it is this question of corruption . . . Every issue that affects us in this country right now . . . they intersect with this fundamental question of who government works for.”
Other events on the potential 2020 calendar:
- Julián Castro: the former housing secretary and San Antonio mayor who has already formed an exploratory committee is set to make an announcement on Jan. 12 on his 2020 ambitions.
- Sherrod Brown: Connie Schultz told CNN's Brian Stelter on Sunday that she and her husband will make a decision “within the next two months” on whether or not he'll launch a 2020 bid.
- Howard Schultz: Buzzfeed's Darren Sanders tweeted out the nugget that Schultz, who stepped down as Starbucks CEO, will be honored by The King Center at their 'Salute to Greatness' gala on Jan. 19.
In the Media
If you're anything like us, you're still catching up on everything you tried to avoid on the Internet over the holidays. So, ICYMI:
- What reality TV stars are reading: How Mark Burnett resurrected Donald Trump as an icon of American Success by Patrick Radden Keefe via The New Yorker
- 'What happens when you say no to MS-13': The Hunted by ProPublica's Kavitha Surana and Hannah Dreier.
What Nat Sec circles are reading: Return of the Neocons by Stephen Wertheim via The New York Review of Books
Breaking news & glass ceilings: Susan Zirinsky will replace David Rhodes as CBS News president, becoming first woman to lead division by Stephen Battaglio via the LA Times
Killer crickets: The Sounds That Haunted U.S. Diplomats in Cuba? Lovelorn Crickets, Scientists Say by Carl Zimmer via The New York Times
Speaking of crickets: I ordered a box of crickets from the Internet, and it went about as well as you’d expect by Christopher Ingraham via The Washington Post
That time the WSJ Editorial Board got mad at Trump: Trump’s Cracked Afghan History by The Editorial Board via The Wall Street Journal
Sisterhood of spies: Women now hold top positions at the CIA by Robert Windrem via NBC News
The Post wants to hear from you: How is the federal government shutdown affecting your day-to-day life? Tell The Post. Submit your response here.
Christian Bale won best actor at the Golden Globes last night for his portrayal of Dick Cheney in "Vice." He said he drew on Satan for inspiration: