At the White House
NEEDLE UNMOVED: President Trump spoke to the American people last night for the first time in a formal Oval Office speech to paint a bleak and scary picture of a “growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the southern border, attempting to bolster his claim for a wall with a number of misleading statements.
- “Democrats in Congress have refused to acknowledge the crisis, and they have refused to provide our brave border agents with the tools they desperately need to protect our families and our nation,” Trump somberly read from scripted remarks from a Teleprompter.
It was an unusual way for Trump to use the bully pulpit in an attempt to end the government shutdown.
- “Past presidents have used the Oval Office in prime time to announce military action, to lay out major initiatives or to calm the nation’s nerves in times of stress. President Trump chose the gravity of that venue for a far different reason Tuesday night — to try to create a sense of crisis in pursuit of an elusive campaign promise,” The Post's Dan Balz writes.
- " . . . Trump’s scripted remarks contained little that was new. And although he promised to continue negotiating with Democrats to end the budget impasse, he did not detail any fresh offers in his speech. He suggested that constructing the wall out of steel rather than concrete was a concession to Democrats,” per my colleagues Phil Rucker and Felicia Sonmez.
- What about the terrorists?: “One false claim noticeably absent from the speech was the assertion made by the president and many of his allies in recent days that terrorists are infiltrating the country by way of the southern border. Fact-checkers and TV anchors, including those on Fox News, spent days challenging the truthfulness of the claim,” per The Post's Salvador Rizzo.
Trump's prime time address came three weeks into a partial government shutdown affecting 800,000 federal workers as a majority of Americans “blame President Donald Trump for a partial government shutdown that will cut off paychecks to federal workers this week, though Republicans mostly support his refusal to approve a budget without taxpayer dollars for the U.S.-Mexico border wall, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday.”
Per Reuters: “The national opinion poll, which ran from Jan. 1 to Jan. 7, found that 51 percent of adults believe Trump 'deserves most of the blame' for the shutdown . . . That is up 4 percentage points from a similar poll that ran from Dec. 21 to 25. Another 32 percent blame congressional Democrats for the shutdown and 7 percent blame congressional Republicans, according to the poll.”
Even Trump was unconvinced by his own efforts, telling TV anchors during an off-the-record lunch on Tuesday afternoon that his speech and planned visit to the border on Thursday would not “change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it,” according to the New York Times's Peter Baker. Trump said "[t]he trip was merely a photo opportunity . . . But, he added, gesturing at his communications aides Bill Shine, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, 'these people behind you say it’s worth it.'”
Colorful nugget from the Times's Michael Grynbaum on the lunch: " . . . the president was in a cheery, chatty mood. But according to two people in the room, he frowned when a hefty slice of chocolate cake arrived for dessert. 'That’s going to look good on me tonight,' Mr. Trump joked, declining to partake.”
Squeezed behind a podium on Capitol Hill, “Chuck and Nancy” delivered a rebuttal to Trump's speech where they “took turns chastising Trump for spreading misinformation in arguing for a border wall while insisting that the federal government should not be used as leverage for a wall that remains unpopular with the broader public,” wrote The Post's Seung Min Kim. The Democratic leaders called on the president to “stop manufacturing a crisis” and reopen the government.
What's next? Trump will head to Capitol Hill today to attend a Senate Republican policy lunch, followed by a meeting at the White House with Congressional leaders to continue negotiations. He's expected to head to the border on Thursday.
See Trump's full speech here:
PAGING 'MIKE' BOLTON: The shutdown showdown is emblematic of the way this White House does business, according to those who have been on the inside. Officials said the lack of process surrounding shutdown decision-making isn't unique and bears similarities to Trump's impulsive decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria without consulting his top advisers. That policy was later walked back by national security adviser John Bolton.
A former senior White House official said that Trump's plan to build a wall along the border could have benefited from a more formal “process”:
- “The really ideological people who have such disdain for many working for the president in the White House don’t realize the change does not happen without a process and a path toward implementation … If you actually wanted to get things done, you’d actually think about the process to do that, the coalitions needed to affect change,” the former official told Power Up.
- “Witness the wall, witness what’s going on now — you had two years of a Republican-held Congress in which there was no process to implement an important presidential priority. If this is such a priority — where was the process? Where was the coalition building in order to get this done?”
More on Syria: The Times's Helene Cooper and Mark Landler reported earlier this week that Bolton “is at least partly responsible for the conditions that led to Trump's sudden move” on Syria because he “has largely eliminated internal policy debates that could have fleshed out the troop decision with timetables, conditions and a counter terrorism strategy for after the troops leave. Under Mr. Bolton’s management, senior administration officials said, the National Security Council staff had 'zero' role in brokering a debate over America’s future in Syria.”
The former senior White House official elaborated on why Bolton seems to have disdain for bureaucratic decision-making:
- “I think it’s a very deliberate decision by Bolton to come into the White House and keep things on very, very close hold, driven by his profound distrust of people in general but certainly of the bureaucracy. What he did not recognize is that he’s done the president a disservice. Because he’s made it much harder to implement the president’s agenda. Of course, the president’s critics are happy about this,” the official told us.
- Mark Groombridge, a former top adviser to Bolton at the State Department and United Nations, said that Trump's Syria withdrawal process has been done “a — backwards.”
- But Groombridge said the fault for that lies with Trump: “I've never met anyone who understands the bureaucracy better than Bolton, but that kind of advantage he has . . . John can serve as a guardrail or try to curb the president's most impulsive instincts. [But] to some extent, that's impossible,” Groombridge told us. “Those who disagree with John would say it's a good thing, though. There are some who don't want him to be the adult in the room.”
- Is Bolton here to stay?: Groombridge believes that Bolton is not getting what he wants on North Korea, Russia, China and on the transatlantic relationship with NATO but that he won't resign because “he firmly believes that to the extent anyone can influence the president, he can and he will stick it out. I think he believes it's his patriotic duty to do so.”
- Bolton vs. Trump: The Post's Missy Ryan and John Hudson explained the fundamental differences in Trump and Bolton's worldviews: “The president's order last month to withdraw troops from Syria . . . had already exposed a stark gap between Bolton's plan to use the country as a theater to push back against Iran and the president’s eagerness to wash his hands of the war.”
- Pivot point: Despite Trump's calls for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Syria, Bolton told reporters in Israel the United States would not withdraw from northern Syria until Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan committed to protecting Syrian Kurdish forces allied with the United States in the fight against ISIS.
- The spin: Bolton attempted to cover the shift by claiming the new withdrawal timetable “occurs as a result of the fulfillment of the conditions and the establishment of the circumstances that we want to see.”
- Leaving Turkey yesterday morning sans meeting with Erdogan, Bolton faced unpleasant headlines from Turkish newspapers. The pro-Erdogan Daily Sabah's editorial board wrote that it was “a bad idea for Bolton to go rogue and try to impose conditions on the United States withdrawal from Syria” and accused Bolton of being among those in the administration actively working against Trump.
From the Courts
OOPS: Due to a formatting error, reporters learned yesterday that Paul Manafort shared political polling data during the 2016 presidential race with Russian Associate Konstantin V. Kilimnik. The accidental disclosure by Manafort's lawyers also reveal that Kilimnik and Manafort discussed a Ukrainian peace plan and met several times in person following Manafort’s firing from the Trump campaign.
- The key quote: “Throughout the campaign and the early days of the Trump administration, Russia and its allies were pushing various plans for Ukraine in the hope of gaining relief from American-led sanctions imposed after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine….The document provided the clearest evidence to date that the Trump campaign may have tried to coordinate with Russians during the 2016 presidential race,” reported the Times.
- Caveat: “The document gave no indication of whether Mr. Trump was aware of the data transfer or how Mr. Kilimnik might have used the information.”
On The Hill
#TBSHUTDOWNS: The current government shutdown is a perfect parable of politics in 2019. Two sides, squarely opposed and firmly entrenched. Yet modern shutdowns are deeply rooted in American political history. Indeed, the reason they’re possible can be traced to a famous constitutional ideal, while the law that enforces them dates back to the 1870s.
For this week’s dose of historical context, Power Up tapped the archives to examine the history of government shutdowns — and why they exist in the first place.
- Separation of powers: This idea is at the root of American governance — to limit a president’s power, the Founding Fathers gave Congress control over spending, which means the government can only spend with a congressional say-so and a presidential signature. As the Associated Press pointed out in 2013, this structure would set the table for many future power struggles.
- The ‘Antideficiency Act’: Before this law, passed in 1870 under President Ulysses S. Grant, agencies looking to spend more than was appropriated simply borrowed money and then asked Congress to cover their debts. Lawmakers, feeling their authority undermined, passed the Antideficiency Act to close that loophole.
- Huh, what law?: Trouble was, over the next century, the law went largely unenforced. When lawmakers failed to pass a spending bill, agencies would keep on operating and pay their bills retroactively. That ended in 1980, when the 19th-century law was rediscovered and then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti decided to strictly enforce it. From then on, if Congress failed to allocate money, government operations ground to a halt. Thus, the modern shutdown was born.
- But at least it’s not snowing: Since Civiletti issued that decision, there have been 15 government shutdowns, eight of which happened during President Reagan’s tenure — though the longest, at 21 days, came under Bill Clinton. That shutdown, which stretched from December 1995 to January 1996, was the second one that winter, a season The Post’s Steve Hendrix called “a frozen mess for federal functionality.” Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) finally struck a deal on Jan. 6, ending three weeks of furloughs. But that very same day came the icing (literally) on the cake: the Blizzard of ’96 swept through the District and kept the government shuttered another five days.
In the Agencies
THE CONSEQUENCES: Things will get real for the federal employees who won't get a paycheck for the first time this week, and could soon materialize for millions of Americans who depend on government services.
- Half full?: Environmental Protection Agency acting head Andrew Wheeler announced some partially good news that furloughed EPA employees will receive “one half of their salary for a normal pay period for the week of December 23 on the upcoming regularly scheduled pay date this week. Understandably, many staff were concerned about the complete lack of another paycheck,” Wheeler wrote (see above screenshot).
- Food stamps: The Agriculture Department announced Americans who receive food stamps will get them for another month “by giving states give states the money for February’s food stamps ahead of time — by Jan. 20 — to circumvent the expiration of federal appropriations. States, which administer the SNAP program, will have to ask for the money to be allocated earlier than they normally would,” according to The Post's Jeff Stein. Although officials “could not promise those benefits will continue if the shutdown lasts until March.”
- More from Jeff: “The White House earlier this week also directed the Internal Revenue Service to issue tax refunds during filing season, a reversal of long-standing policy. Earlier Tuesday, the Agriculture Department said it would extend the application period for farmers requesting checks under its bailout program to mitigate damages from the trade war with China.”
- Farmers are awaiting relief in Maryland, per The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Barker: “I would normally have had my check by now,” said Eastern Shore farmer Jonathan Quinn. Quinn, who declined to say how much he receives from the program, grows corn, soybeans, wheat and barley in Cecil and Kent counties. He said the shutdown has also delayed release of domestic and world crop reports from the federal government that help farmers gauge what and how much to plant.”
- More from The Sun: “The Annapolis offices of the federal Chesapeake Bay Program are closed, which means its staff and data are unavailable to local governments that are in the midst of formulating plans to reduce the amount of pollution that flows into the bay. Those plans are especially important as record 2018 rainfall washed unusually large loads of nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and other pollutants into waterways.”
- According to The Post's Ted Mellnik, Laris Karklis and Kevin Schaul, “As a percentage of all workers, federal employees affected by the shutdown are as common in Montana and Alaska as they are in Maryland.”
- By the numbers: “While around 75 percent of the government is fully funded, the shuttered federal agencies employ more than 800,000 people who work in all 50 states, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the federal Office of Personnel Management. The total of their reported salaries tops $1.4 billion per week, a reflection of their economic impact.”
- “Half of the affected workers do not have college degrees, while one in five have education beyond a bachelor’s degree. The largest part, 45 percent, are categorized as administrative and hold positions such as air traffic controllers, inspectors, IT managers and criminal investigators. Tens of thousands are blue collar workers, including mechanics, cooks and custodians. Although they typically earn $85,600 a year, almost 111,000 workers make less than $50,000.”
ATTENTION MUSIC HEADS: If you follow my friends at NBC News and Politico — Katy Tur and Jake Sherman — you might have seen some breaking nonpolitical news about Power Up reader and friend Ryan Adams's three (!) new albums being released this year. We've got the track list for Adams's album “BIG COLORS,” produced by Beatriz Artola, Ryan Adams, and Don Was, set to be released April 19, 2019:
1. Big Colors
2. Do Not Disturb
3. It's So Quiet, It's Loud
4. (Expletive) the Rain
5. Doylestown Girl
6. Dreaming You Backwards
7. I Surrender
8. What Am I
11. In It For The Pleasure
12. Middle of the Line
13. I'm Sorry and I Love You
15. Summer Rain
From Don Was, another Power Up friend: “I wish everyone could witness the awe-inspiring sight of Ryan Adams recording in the studio . . . the endless flow of brilliant ideas is mind blowing and he's clearly tapped into the deepest reaches of the Creative Ether. His forthcoming album(s) elevate his art form to a whole new stratosphere and it's an honor and a thrill for all of us at Blue Note Records to work with him. Oh yeah . . . one other thing: he's the most underrated guitarist in rock n roll.”