Good morning, Power Players. On day 20 of the partial government shutdown, President Trump heads to McAllen, Texas and the Rio Grande where he'll continue his PR campaign to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Meanwhile, 800,000 federal employees are set to miss their first paycheck since the shutdown started. Reach out to tell us about your shutdown experience.
At the White House
THE ART OF PROLONGING A SHUTDOWN: Not even chocolate bars and M & M’s could sweeten the mood yesterday during a meeting between President Trump and Democratic leaders at the White House.
As soon as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), once again, denied Trump funds for his wall along the southern border, the president abruptly ended the meeting with a curt “bye-bye” and a parenthetical wave. The exchange marked a Kafkaesque disintegration of “negotiations” over the government shutdown — the clearest screenshot yet of the absence of any solution.
Trump is so far flunking the biggest test of his dealmaking skills as president, learning the hard way that governing in a divided Washington is not remotely like running the Trump Organization or hosting “The Apprentice.” Firing his Democratic foes, Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a la Omarosa’s unceremonious dumping from both his reality TV show and then the White House, is not an option.
- The Post’s David Nakamura and Seung Min Kim write that Trump’s shutdown approach “is a hallmark of a president who eschews strategic planning and preparation in favor of day-to-day tactical maneuvering and trusting his gut. But as he digs in against an emboldened Democratic opposition, Trump has found that his go-to arsenal of bluster, falsehoods, threats and theatrics has laid bare his shortcomings as a negotiator — preventing him from finding a way out of what may be the biggest political crisis of his presidency.”
- “It was pretty clear his heart was not in it,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) told the Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender and Kristina Peterson after yesterday's meeting. “He's getting impatient, he believes it should’ve been resolved a long time ago in his favor, but the fact is he doesn’t have the support of the Democrats, he doesn’t have the support of the country and Republicans are getting uneasy.”
A source close to the White House summed up the situation succinctly: “Simply, there's zero political incentive for either side to budge right now.”
Trump visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with Senate Republicans to persuade them to hold firm in what has become a zero-sum game between Trump and Democrats over wall funding. He then declared the GOP is “totally unified” on the shutdown.
Cracks in the political wall: But by Wednesday evening, five GOP senators and eight House Republicans had broken with Trump — a telling sign that things could get worse for the president on the Hill as the shutdown drags on. Privately, a number of Republican Hill staffers expressed skepticism of Trump's shutdown tactics but conceded that their bosses would continue to support Trump publicly for the time being:
- One Republican Hill aide told Power Up that Republicans are privately “supportive of the request for $5 billion but don't want to shut down the government over it.”
- The problem? “No one believes Schumer/Pelosi when they say we'll address [the wall] separately. It just won't happen or it will turn into some amnesty nonsense. And everyone understands this is a political necessity for the president. So, it's a kind of 'wait and see' for now."
- Staffers added that senators up for reelection in 2020 are the ones wavering. “November 2020 is far away. None of this will matter by then. If Trump has wall or not will,” the Republican aide added.
Officials on both sides of the aisle described a fundamental distrust between Democrats and Republicans that's compounded the shutdown stalemate and prevented productive negotiations.
- “It's bad . . . I don't know how you can have a working negotiation with someone if it's this bad,” a senior GOP Hill staffer told Power Up. "Until there is a true kind of inflection point, I don't see how Nancy will come around to anything since this is her first moment as Speaker again."
- “Democrats keep saying, ‘We don’t trust it until Trump will sign it,’ ” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.)told reporters Wednesday. “That’s not an unreasonable request . . . We won’t know until we put something in front of him.”
- The senior GOP Hill source optimistically added: “A fierce political battle isn't sustainable as paychecks are missed — I think that will be tough for some of [Democratic] members and our members, quite frankly. But I think now it's getting to the point where meetings are ending just as they've started and that it can't get any worse. There's always darkness before dawn. It just depends on what the exit is.”
- They might be right: CNN's Manu Raju reports that “Republican senators are privately planning to court Democratic senators on an immigration deal that would give [Trump] money for his border wall and include several measures long-sought by Democrats, according to sources familiar with the matter... The long-shot idea: propose an immigration deal that would include $5.7 billion for Trump's border wall along with several provisions that could entice Democrats. Those items include changes to help those who are a part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as well as immigrants from El Salvador and other countries impacted by the Temporary Protected Status program - along with modifications to H-2B visas.”
Reminder: The numbers show no actual crisis at the southern border:
On The Hill
GOP STOPS THE BLEEDING — FOR NOW: Ahead of Wednesday's House vote to reopen the Treasury Department, Republicans privately worried that more than two dozen GOP lawmakers would break ranks and vote with Democrats.
Yet, just eight House Republicans voted for passage of the single spending bill, one more than the seven who voted with Democrats on a package of spending bills aimed at reopening the government last week. However, as the shutdown wears on, the group of renegade Republicans may swell.
Here's what those who have already voiced their discontent had to say:
- Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska): “We can walk and chew gum at the same time here,” Murkowski said, indicating her support for Democrats' solution to fund the government through September while passing a shorter-term spending measure for border security while the two sides debate.
- Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.): “I mean, I think I could live with that,” she said of the Democratic proposal. “I’ve expressed more than a few times the frustrations with a government shutdown and how useless it is, so that pressure’s going to build.”
- Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.): Per the New York Times: Roberts, who announced his retirement next year, “lamented that government shutdowns 'never work' and turn federal workers into 'pawns.' Though they had not reached a point of direct intervention yet, he said, 'we’re getting pretty close.'”
- Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.): “I don’t believe shutting down the government is the best course of action,” Gardner told Fox News. “Instead, we should fund border security, end the partial government shutdown, and then continue to fight to get even more border security funding in the long term.”
- Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine): “My goal is to get government reopened as fast as possible. And six of those bills, we’ve got agreements on and so I’d like to see those signed into law,” Collins said. The senator also told NBC Nightly News that Trump declaring a national emergency to fund a wall “would be a very dubious move from the constitutional perspective” and said she is “worried about what the end game is. This cannot be allowed to go on forever.”
- The eight Republicans who voted to reopen Treasury: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Will Hurd (Tex), John Katko (N.Y.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Greg Walden (Ore.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.).
In the Agencies
'SALT IN A REALLY BIG WOUND': First came the budget cuts; then, the hiring freezes. All in all, it's been a long, hard two years for federal employees, the daily indignities punctuated by hostility from the White House and ineptitude from Cabinet secretaries.
“For so many languishing federal workers — public servants alternately characterized as deep state antagonists or bloated bureaucrats — it’s all too much," wrote The Post's Avi Selk and Ellen McCarthy. “Trump promised to shake up Washington, and he has. But the country’s 2 million federal workers have mostly soldiered on, believing in the value of their work even if they question decisions coming out of the White House. Until Now."
Selk and McCarthy talked to six of furloughed workers, who told them of "sleepless nights, creeping anxieties and financial distress. All of it an affront, they said, the nadir of indignation wrought by two years of government work under Trump."
A U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighter: This federal firefighter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, had just been through the deadliest fire year in his two-decade career. Now, furloughed, he can't help but think of all the valuable work he's not allowed to do — for starters, clearing out forest brush that can become kindling in a fire. “We absolutely need to [but] we're not allowed," he said.
A scientist at NOAA: One marine biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who also asked to remain anonymous, has begun asking herself existential questions: “Day to day it’s easy for us to be frustrated. ‘Why are we doing this?’ No one cares. No one pays attention." Here's how she described the morale among her colleagues: “looooow — very low."
An EPA worker: Gary Morton has worked in the federal government for nearly 40 years, yet he doesn't think today's young people will see the public sector as a viable place to begin a long career. He employed a dark simile to describe the state of play, as he sees it: “It’s like a civil war. We’re all Americans. But Americans are getting in the way of Americans helping America."
An employee at the State Department echoed some of those despairing sentiments in a message to Power Up: “Imagine a staff that’s experienced a major hiring freeze and therefore has been working with reduced staff for two years. Overworked and under appreciated, this is the first opportunity they have to truly reflect on the experience of the last two years and reassess their careers. This is blue-collar men and women who had forgone large salaries in order to protect American citizens and the populous spits in their face and says they’re paid too much and should be drained."
TRUMP'S WHITE HOUSE BEEFS UP ON LAWYERS: Our colleague Carol D. Leonnig reports that new White House Counsel Pat Cipollone in recent weeks hired 17 lawyers to gear up for the expected release of the Mueller report and a flood of inquiries from House Democratic investigators.
Key details from her report below:
- “Since his arrival in December, Cipollone has increased the staff to roughly 35 lawyers and aims to bolster the ranks to 40 in the coming weeks, administration officials said. He also hired three deputies, all with extensive experience in past Republican White Houses and the Justice Department.”
- The key quote: “It’s almost as if he’s building a law firm within a government entity,” Jay Sekulow, one of Trump's personal attorney's told Leonnig. “You have very senior lawyers coalescing into a great team.”
- Setting a strategy: “Cipollone’s goal, Trump aides said, is to try to find common ground with the congressional Democrats in responding to their subpoenas when he can, but draw a clear line that would protect the confidentiality of the office of the presidency.”
- On asserting executive privilege to withhold from the public parts of the Mueller report: “White House lawyers are prepared to make a robust argument that such communications must be kept confidential under executive privilege. They credit former White House lawyer Ty Cobb, Flood’s predecessor, along with Trump’s previous personal attorney John Dowd, with crafting the legal strategy to shield those conversations.”
- Three new deputies: Mike Purpura, who served in the counsel's office under President George W. Bush; Patrick Philbin, who worked with Cipollone at Kirkland & Ellis; and Kate Comerford Todd, a senior attorney at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
You wake up in a cold sweat with only one thought: Somehow you must get to Iowa. https://t.co/liMPM8YkGd— Alexandra Petri (@petridishes) January 3, 2019
Outside the Beltway
2020 UPDATE, FAST:
- Tom Steyer's out: The New York Times's Alexander Burns broke the news that the California billionaire who led the crusade to impeach Trump will not be running for president in 2020 but "intends to spend at least $40 million on impeachment efforts in the coming year -- money that might otherwise have been directed toward a campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination."
- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) told CNN's Jake Tapper that she'd be making a decision soon about 2020. Harris, who published a new memoir this week, said this about the country being ready for a woman of color as president: “We have to give the American people more credit, and we have to understand that the American public and the people of our country are smart people, who will make decisions about who will be their leader, based on who they believe is capable, who they believe has an honest desire to lead, to represent, to see them, to be a voice for them even if they have no power,” Harris said. “It has been my life's experience that the American people are smart and they make decisions about what's in the best interest of their household, their family and their community. And I have faith that in 2020, and in any other election, that will be their motivation when they vote."
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is headed to New Hampshire: The Boston Globe's James Pindell reports that Warren will make her first trip to the Granite State this coming week, including "a stop at Manchester Community College... followed by a private house party in Concord with key activists... In addition, the New Hampshire Democratic Party announced Wednesday that Warren will serve as the keynote speaker of its major fund-raising dinner in February.”
- & ICYMI: Beto's planning a road trip, per The Wall Street Journal's Reid Epstein and Ken Thomas.