The pressure is coming not just from Democrats but from unpaid federal workers, including from his home state of Kentucky. Some workers are lining the streets of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Lexington office, holding posters that read:"Mitch give us a vote on the floor” and "5 federal prisons in KY = thousands without pay.”
But McConnell's office says that the majority leader — himself up for reelection in 2020 — can't pull a rabbit out of the political hat when the president and Democrats are so far apart on paying for President Trump's border wall.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck "Schumer said Congress should not be voting on funding bills unless they have the President’s support and the support of all four congressional leaders,” David Popp, McConnell's communications director, wrote Power Up. “His bottom line requirement for voting on a funding bill was that, 'all four congressional leaders must sign off and the President must endorse it and say he will sign it.'”
Schumer directly called on McConnell Monday to "allow a vote on the House-passed legislation to re-open the government" after McConnell blasted Democrats for opposing “the very same kind of reinforced steel fencing that the Obama administration bragged about building.”
- “It seems clear to nearly everybody but Leader McConnell that Congress needs to move forward without the president. At every juncture, the president has been the obstacle to progress,” Schumer said.
McConnell is in this fix after Trump changed his mind and refused to sign a package of spending bills passed by his Senate days before Christmas. Now, House Democrats have teed up a strategy in which they’ve passed separate spending bills to reopen most of the government while isolating the funding fight over border wall. But McConnell has refused to take up the bill because, he says, Trump won't sign it.
- The key quote: “He’s right where he has always been,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), McConnell's deputy said after leaving a private lunch with him yesterday. “As soon as the president tells him there is something he’d be willing to sign, he’ll bring it to the floor. But the president’s signature isn’t a given on anything, and the leader isn’t going to go through with some futile act on something in the meantime.”
Republicans argue there's little McConnell can actually accomplish at the moment. The crucial point, as The Post's Paul Kane explains below, the difficulty in brokering a deal when there's no deal to be had. The current impasse is fundamentally different than negotiations during previous standoffs, aides say, an assessment that McConnell's office said he "100 percent" agrees with.
“He is taking the 'Call me when you figure this sh*t out' approach' toward Democrats and the White House," a former senior GOP Hill aide told Power Up. “Before the shutdown, he got his members to vote for a bill to keep government open and POTUS burned him. He doesn’t want to negotiate or even really be involved publicly until there’s a solution on the table. It seems very little trust exists between him and the president, which could have broader implications for the rest of this Congress.”
“The reality is that ultimately he doesn’t have 60 votes,” Marc Short, Trump's former director of legislative affairs, told us. "There aren’t 60 Republicans in the Senate so it has to be something that Trump needs to negotiate with Schumer and [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi."
“As long as their answer remains ‘no,’ there’s probably not a productive role for him to play,” Josh Holmes, a former McConnell chief of staff, told The Post's Erica Werner, Sean Sullivan and Damian Paletta.
“Democrats are so opposed to the president politically, in a lot of ways, they can’t take 'yes' for an answer . . . If you go to Trump’s comments today at the convention for farmers, he talked about the desire to get them more staff at border, H1-B visas, a willingness to get to a deal on [young undocumented immigrants]. It doesn’t seem that that policy divide is that difficult to bridge. But the gulf on the politics is enormous," Short added.
PEAK P.K.: Kane has covered McConnell up close for the 12 years he's been Senate GOP leader. He had this to say about why McConnell is keeping a low profile in the shutdown talks so far:
“McConnell’s absence is completely misunderstood. Many think that there is no deal because he is on the sideline, but in fact it’s the opposite: He is on the sidelines because there is no deal to be had, at least not yet," P.K. writes.
- “There is a fundamental divide that cannot be bridged by a mathematical slight of hand the way McConnell helped resolve other impasses — move a little money from this account into that one, cut taxes from these workers but increase them on a few others. No, this is fundamental: Trump wants a border wall, Pelosi is morally opposed to that. There’s no old-school-appropriator resolution.”
“And this is McConnell’s M.O. People forget that he started on the sidelines in almost every major deal. In the December 2010 tax deal and 2011 debt limit standoff, McConnell let others try at first and then came in toward the end to tie up the final pieces. In December 2012, as the fiscal cliff loomed, yours truly wrote a Sunday A1 piece under the headline 'Congress waits to see if McConnell will join ‘fiscal cliff’ debate:'"
- “Key to those hopes is McConnell (R-Ky.), whose deal making prowess over the past two years was essential to the negotiations that led to the fiscal cliff, and may now be equally critical in finding a solution to the austerity crisis.”
- “So far, the Senate minority leader has remained in the shadows. That has led some lawmakers to wonder if he will play the dealmaker this time. Democrats question whether McConnell’s 2014 reelection bid will impede his ability to support a deal.”
“Sound familiar? Right down to being two years out of an election and worrying first about a primary challenge. He only stepped into these other talks once there was a clear, willing partner ready to cut a deal (usually former senator and ex-Vice President Joe Biden, sometimes former Sen. Harry Reid) ... Whenever a deal emerges to open government back up, don’t be surprised if McConnell is again in the middle of it.”
Big picture: the shutdown is giving some small-government Republicans exactly what they want. From The Post's Lisa Rein, Robert Costa and Danielle Paquette: "... for many White House aides and allies, the partial shutdown is advancing another long-standing priority: constraining the government."
'IT IS DEFINITELY NOT AMERICAN': A panel of top House Republicans voted unanimously to strip Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) of his committee assignments days after he questioned whether the term “white supremacist” was actually offensive — just the latest in a string of statements he's made that are racist, anti-Semitic, seem to favor white nationalists, or insult immigrants, blacks, Latinos or women seeking abortions.
“That is not the party of Lincoln,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), referring to King's latest comments. “It is definitely not American. All people are created equal in America, and we want to take a very strong stance about that.”
McConnell issued a similar rebuke, saying King's statements are “unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position. If he doesn't understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work.”
King responded, issuing a statement that called McCarthy's decision “political” and said it “ignores the truth.”
Two Democrats filed resolutions to censure King, The Post's Mike DeBonis reported. One of them, Rep. Bobby L. Rush (Ill.), said that “The U.S. Congress cannot be a platform for [King] and those of his ilk . . . Anything short of censure would be shallow.”
“These types of examples hurt us”: Days after King's comments, Trump sent a racially charged tweet invoking the Wounded Knee massacre in an attack on Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a 2020 candidate. "The fresh controversies," wrote The Post's Seung Min Kim and DeBonis, “underscored the GOP’s ongoing struggles over the issue of race, even as condemnations from senior Republicans of King’s remarks grew louder on Monday and lawmakers argued that his voice didn't represent the party.”
At the White House
TRUMP'S DINNER OF CHAMPIONS: After visiting New Orleans to deliver a speech demanding — surprise! — a wall at the American Farm Bureau Federation, Trump returned to Washington to host the college football champs, Clemson Tigers, for a fast-food feast.
- “Piles of burgers and fish sandwiches from McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King, still in their boxes and wrappers, were served on trays in the candlelit dining room. Tubs of dipping sauces were stacked in silver gravy boats. On another table, heat lamps kept French fries and Domino’s pizzas warm. Salads were available, too,” the New York Times's Daniel Victor wrote in vivid detail of the 300-burger spread that Trump gleefully presented.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement saying the shutdown had necessitated the less traditional meal that Trump "personally" paid for.
D.C. Chef and Pulitzer Prize nominee José Andrés, who will begin serving free hot meals for furloughed federal employees, teased Trump on Twitter for his choice of food: “In my house I make the salads! @realDonaldTrump do you want a class Sir?”
On the topic of spending: The New York Times's Maggie Haberman, Sharon LaFraniere and Ben Protess got a hold of details of the Trump inaugural committee's expenditures. The committee raised a record setting $107 million and is now under criminal investigation over donations that funded it.
“There was $10,000 for makeup for 20 aides at an evening inaugural event. There was another $30,000 in per diem payments to dozens of contract staff members, in addition to their fully covered hotel rooms, room service orders, plane tickets and taxi rides, including some to drop off laundry,” reports The Times.
“The bill from the Trump International Hotel was more than $1.5 million. And there was a documentary, overseen by a close friend of Melania Trump’s, that was ultimately abandoned.”
“Over all, the Trump team’s spending appears 'astronomical,' Emmett S. Beliveau, who was chief executive of [President] Obama’s first inaugural committee, told the Times.
'I'M DISAPPOINTED IN MICK': Eleven years ago, when Mick Mulvaney was a young South Carolina businessman, a company he co-owned borrowed nearly $1.5 million to build a strip mall in a village near Charlotte. But the deal fell apart and the mall was never built. Now, years later, Charles Fonville Sr., who owns the firm that lent Mulvaney the money, says he never got paid back either. The Post's Michael Kranish broke this story, which comes as Mulvaney has recently reached the most influential position of his career, Trump' s acting chief of staff. More from the story:
- Fonville said Mulvaney owes him $2.5 million for the loan, plus interest, and “their dispute is at the center of a legal battle playing out behind the scenes in South Carolina as Mulvaney guides Trump through a high-stakes budget showdown with congressional Democrats. The fight threatens to tarnish Mulvaney’s image as fiscally responsible.”
- “Fonville’s company has filed a claim in a South Carolina court against two companies in which Mulvaney has an ownership stake, accusing them of 'intent to deceive,' 'fraudulent acts' and 'breach of contract' to avoid repayment. The heart of Fonville’s allegation: When a new Mulvaney-linked company was formed and sought to foreclose on the first company Mulvaney co-owned, it was a maneuver to avoid paying the debt owed to Fonville.”
- “In court filings, the Mulvaney-connected companies denied the allegations and asked that Fonville & Co.’s claim be dismissed. But a judge said the case should go forward. No trial date has been set.”
- Read Kranish's full story here.
ALL ROADS LEAD BACK TO RUSSIA: The Times’s Julian Barnes and Helene Cooper broke the story on Monday that Trump suggested the U.S. withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) several times over the course of 2018 — a move that Trump’s national security team (then defense secretary Jim Mattis and national security adviser John Bolton) argued would “drastically reduce Washington’s influence in Europe and could embolden Russia for decades.”
- “Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set,” the Times reports. “Now, the president’s repeatedly stated desire to withdraw from NATO is raising new worries among national security officials amid growing concern about Mr. Trump’s efforts to keep his meetings with Mr. Putin secret from even his own aides, and an F.B.I. investigation into the administration’s Russia ties.”
- The key quote: “Even discussing the idea of leaving NATO — let alone actually doing so — would be the gift of the century for [Vladimir] Putin,” the former supreme allied commander of NATO Admiral James Stavridis said.
- The Trump White House in three sentences: “Mr. Trump’s skepticism of NATO appears to be a core belief, administration officials said, akin to his desire to expropriate Iraq’s oil. While officials have explained multiple times why the United States cannot take Iraq’s oil, Mr. Trump returns to the issue every few months. Similarly, just when officials think the issue of NATO membership has been settled, Mr. Trump again brings up his desire to leave the alliance.”
From a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst: