Trump “has exhibited more determination than calculation” and “offered no path to victory — other than brinkmanship,” according to The Post's Phil Rucker, Bob Costa, Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim. “Trump’s advisers are scrambling to build an exit ramp while also bracing for the shutdown to last weeks longer. Current and former aides said there is little strategy in the White House; people are frustrated and, in the words of one, 'freaking. out,'" they report.
He even aimed his ire on Friday at his own acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who urged compromise on the president's $5.7 billion border wall demands. First reported by Axios, Trump used expletives in front of congressional leaders directed at Mulvaney slamming him for suggesting compromise, “one of the advisers said, calling it a scene 'right out of ‘The Godfather,'" report Felicia Sonmez and Cat Zakrzewski.
Here are the options for the president:
1. Keep the government shut down: Trump is not budging in his demands for wall funding and Democrats remained united in their stance against the wall, citing its immorality and futility. But the longer the government shutdown lasts, the longer federal employees go unpaid and funding for various government services will continue to dry up, fueling negative public opinion.
- Three weeks in, Trump is losing the PR battle. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Sunday: “By a wide margin, more Americans blame President Trump and Republicans in Congress than congressional Democrats for the now record-breaking government shutdown, and most reject the president’s assertion that there is an illegal-immigration crisis on the southern border,” report Scott Clement and Dan Balz.
- At the same time, the political implications of the shutdown are different for Trump than they are for Democrats. Media coverage of the shutdown is deflecting at least some of the coverage that would be dedicated to blockbuster stories like the FBI's opening a counterintelligence investigation into whether the president was working on Russia's behalf. Democrats run the risk of looking weak on border security and shifting attention from their much-anticipated investigations of the president on Russia, his tax returns and his appointees.
2. Declare a national emergency: Trump is investigating declaring a national emergency to build the border wall unilaterally. The White House is eyeing using asset seizure funds, diverting funds from various Pentagon military construction projects, unused money in the Army Corps of Engineers budget, etc.
- The president has repeatedly said he has the right to declare a national emergency and Republicans, who crucified Obama over abuses of executive power, have indicated that they'd support the action. But Democrats “are researching how to potentially undermine the move in the courts, according to House officials familiar with the effort, aides to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and staff members on several House committees are developing a parallel strategy to convince the public that an emergency declaration is unwarranted and would harm communities where previously funded projects were raided to pay for the wall,” per The Post's Mike DeBonis and Ellen Nakashima.
3. Sen. Lindsey Graham's plan: On “Fox News Sunday”, the South Carolina senator and sometime Trump whisperer said Trump should “open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug. See if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off. See if he can do it by himself through the emergency powers,” Graham said, per The Post's Sonmez and Zakrzewski.
3. Compromise: This, unfortunately, is the unlikeliest of outcomes at the moment. On the Hill, moderate Republicans assembled a framework to provide a three-year temporary fix for young undocumented immigrants to get protection in exchange for additional border wall funding. But Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) told The Hill's Alexander Bolton that Republicans would need to agree to more than three years and a path to citizenship for all “dreamers.”
- Trump is unwilling to accept any path forward without Democrats softening on the wall: Graham met last week with White House legislative affairs director Shahira Knight and Jared Kushner “to discuss a broader immigration deal that could include protections for undocumented children in exchange for $5.7 billion in wall funding.” The plan was soon presented to Trump, though, who dismissed it. "[Vice President] Pence then told Graham and [Sen. Lamar] Alexander that Trump appreciated their proposal but was not interested in re-opening the government until the Democrats were willing to negotiate on the wall,” according to The Post.
4. Out there . . . but: One Democratic lawmaker floated the idea of the shutdown coming to an end if TSA agents or air traffic controllers go on strike, arguing that most of them can't miss a whole month's paycheck. (Who among us CAN miss a whole month's paycheck?) “People will start to get eviction notices from apartment complexes, late fees on most bills, etc. Or they will quit and take another job,” the lawmaker texted.
- There is a federal prohibition on strikes that hasn't been tested since “President Ronald Reagan famously fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who refused his order to return to work during contract talks in 1981,” according to The Atlantic. “But Trump’s threat to keep the government closed for “months or even years” could test the willingness of federal employees to remain on the job.”
- A TSA spokesperson tweeted on Sunday that “TSA experienced a national rate of 7.7 percent unscheduled absences compared to a 3.2 percent rate one year ago.”
5. Mexico: The country decides to pay for the wall. (Just kidding.) Although Trump originally promised the wall would be financed by our southern neighbor. Despite claims otherwise, Trump promised that Mexico would finance the wall "at least 212 times during his campaign and dozens more since he took office,” per David Nakamura's fact check for you on the topic.
ARE YOU A RUSSIAN AGENT?: It was a question that, shockingly, Trump did not directly answer when he called in live Saturday to Jeanine Pirro's Fox News show. “So, I'm going to ask you, are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?” Pirro asked. “I think it's the most insulting thing I've ever been asked,” Trump answered.
Trump then referred to the New York Times story that raised the question as “the most insulting article I've ever had written." The Times reported Friday that after the president fired FBI Director James Comey, FBI officials opened a counterintelligence investigation into that very question: “Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence,” per Adam Goldman, Michael Schmidt and Nicholas Fandos.
The Post's Greg Miller followed with another scoop that “Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.”
- The key quote: “As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.”
The news is likely to spark Democratic calls for additional investigations and subpoenas. Democratic House chairmen of the Oversight, Intelligence, and the Judiciary committees issued a stern warning directed at the president cautioning him against intimidating congressional witnesses after he lashed out during the Pirro interview at his former lawyer Michael Cohen and vaguely referenced damaging information regarding Cohen’s father-in-law. Cohen is set to testify on the Hill next month about his work for Trump.
- “Our nation’s laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress,” according to the statement. “The President should make no statement or take any action to obstruct Congress’ independent oversight and investigative efforts, including by seeking to discourage any witness from testifying in response to a duly authorized request from Congress.”
A pressing topic of interest for Democrats: Trump's encounter with Putin in Helsinki last summer where the president had a lengthy closed-door conversation with Putin and then cast doubt on U.S. intelligence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election during a news conference.
- “Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview that his panel will form an investigative subcommittee whose targets will include seeking State Department records of Trump’s encounters with Putin, including a closed-door meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki last summer,” per Miller.
- Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) tweeted that he and now-House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tried last year “to subpoena the interpreter from the Trump-Putin meeting. The GOP blocked us. We knew then something was fishy. We now know Trump took the notes. Lost time and more damage to our democracy is the cost of GOP obstruction.”
- There are some hesitations, however, about subpoenaing the translator.
From a national security reporter for Foreign Policy:
On The Hill
SOME BUSINESS AS USUAL: On Tuesday, confirmation hearings for Trump's attorney general nominee William Barr will commence on Capitol Hill in which Barr “is expected to resist Democrats’ demands for explicit promises about the fate of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into President Trump,” The Post's Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky, Karoun Demirjian and Tom Hamburger report.
Key point: “At the hearing, Barr intends to publicly repeat his pledge not to interfere with or shut down Mueller’s work, but is determined not to make broader or more specific promises about how he will approach the Russia investigation or any ethics review of his involvement in it, according to people preparing him for the hearing.”
A likely point of contention: Democrats are expected to drill down on a private memo Barr authored and sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last summer in which he called Mueller's investigation “fatally misconceived” and argued that Mueller shouldn't be allowed to subpoena Trump.
As soon as Tuesday: Democrats are expected to force a Senate vote on a resolution to block the Treasury Department's move to lift sanctions against companies owned by Russia oligarch Oleg Deripaska, per The NYT's Ken Vogel and Alan Rappeport.
And today: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has plans to meet with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) to discuss the consequences of remarks made by King to the Times's Trip Gabriel in which the Republican asked how the terms “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” had become “offensive.”
- On “Face the Nation,” McCarthy said King's “language has no place in America . . . Action will be taken.”
- The Congressional Black Caucus called on Republicans Sunday evening to remove King from his committee assignments, per CNN's Sophie Tatum: “If Republicans really believe these racist statements have no place in our government, then their party must offer more than shallow temporary statements of condemnation,” CBC Chairwoman Rep. Karen Bass (D-California) said in a statement.
- Important media note: King’s comments received just 30 minutes of coverage from cable news outlets in the 24 hours following the publication of his interview, versus two-and-a-half hours dedicated to discussing freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-Mich.) profane comment about impeaching Trump, per Media Matters.
So, over the weekend, Power Up reached out to Post foreign correspondents stationed around the world to see what the international community was saying about America’s current political moment. (Or, of course, whether observers even bother following it.) Here’s what our colleagues told us, from Beijing, Moscow and London ...
Natalia Abbakumova and Amie Ferris-Rotman in Moscow:
- Russia has shown a keen interest in the U.S. government shutdown, with state-run news broadcasts reporting on it daily. Most coverage focuses on the impact on the economy and national security, but there is a particular emphasis on the protests by state employees.
- Never a chance to miss some schadenfreude, Russia's main state network, Rossiya, has been showing footage of "thousands" of government employees expected not to receive pay during the shutdown.
- Last week, one popular Russian talk show mocked Trump's insistence on a wall with Mexico:"Trump's just tough. He's a tough guy. Maybe he's even tougher than, say, Chuck Norris?" said "60 Minutes" co-host Yevgeny Popov, inviting guffaws from his in-studio audience.
- The shutdown has few ramifications for Russia — except, perhaps, when it comes to the lifting of sanctions against companies held by Deripaska. Likewise, fresh U.S. sanctions on Russia over Syria are also being postponed — much to the delight of the Russian state.
Anna Fifield in Beijing:
- The celebrations for the 40th anniversary of U.S.-China relations were already going to be tricky, given the two countries are locked in an acrimonious trade war. But the commemorations this month have been complicated by the shutdown, which has sharply curtailed officials' ability to participate in any public activities.
- At an elaborate lunch in China's Great Hall of the People last week, Chinese vice president Wang Qishan delivered a speech in which he lauded the cooperation between the two countries over the last four decades and urged them to focus on common interests in the future.
- But after Wang's remarks, U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad just sat there. Because of the shutdown, he did not reciprocate. An official said the ambassador would instead do the "bare minimum" to avoid appearing rude: he would offer a toast after the press had been ushered out, the official said on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate diplomatic maneuvering.
Anna also flagged an editorial in China's Global Times, a nationalist tabloid that often reflects the views of the Communist Party, titled "US shutdown reveals flawed democracy." One passage reads: "The US is facing daunting challenges in all spectrums, but its democracy and government are unable to provide the solution to an enlarging income gap, opposition among different classes, worsening partisan polarization. ... The government mechanism, designed more than 100 years ago, is malfunctioning."
Karla Adam in London:
- In normal times, U.S. politics is a hot talking point in the bars and salons in London. But these are not normal times. Britain’s upcoming departure from the European Union, also known as Brexit, is owning the airwaves. But there are many similarities between the political crisis in Washington and London, which are are both struggling to find a way out of the current gridlock.
- In the U.K., there is the prospect of what some have described as a Trump-style shutdown. If the current parliamentary logjam persists and nothing happens between now and the end of March, Britain will exit the E.U. without a deal, which many lawmakers say would be chaotic, perhaps even catastrophic.
- Trump is widely disliked by many Britons, but there are also those who admire his policies on immigration.
- “I think Donald Trump is fantastic,” said Penelope Becker, a 61-year-old Brexit voter. “He is really concerned about delivering on his manifesto for what Americans voted for,” she said. Likewise, she hopes that in the coming weeks British lawmakers will also deliver on what the British public voted for and that, on March 29, Britain really will leave the European Union.
In the Media
- What John Bolton is reading: "White House sought options to strike Iran" by Dion Nissenbaum at the Wall Street Journal. A choice quote from that piece: “It definitely rattled people,” a former senior U.S. administration official said of the request. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”
- What John Bolton is also reading: "'They screwed this whole thing up': Inside the attempt to derail Trump’s erratic Syria withdrawal by The Post's Anne Gearan, Josh Dawsey and John Hudson.
- What border residents are watching: "At US-Mexico border, a tribal nation fights wall that would divide them" by Christopher Livesay and Melanie Saltzman at PBS.
- What voters who Googled Tulsi Gabbard might be reading: "Tulsi Gabbard once touted working for anti-gay group that backed conversion therapy" by Andrew Kaczynski of CNN.
- What 2020 Democratic hopefuls are reading: "Julián Castro, former housing secretary, announces 2020 presidential run" by Maggie Astor.