At the White House
TRUMP'S GREEK CHORUS: A group of about 20 conservative allies of President Trump went to the White House yesterday to urge him to stick to his guns on his $5.7 billion border wall even if it meant prolonging the longest-running government shutdown in history. Why? The president's right flank is more concerned with preventing “amnesty” to young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” in any deal with Democrats than reopening the government.
Trump proposed on Saturday a three-year extension of protections for some immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and temporary protected status in exchange for wall funding.
That proposal is slated for a Senate vote today, along with one from Democrats to reopen the government immediately through Feb. 8 while negotiations continue. Neither measure is expected to secure the 60 votes needed to pass.
But conservatives who attended the meeting with Trump yesterday stressed that the president shouldn't concede any more territory on immigration, even if it meant dragging out the shutdown that has furloughed without pay 800,000 workers.
- “The main takeaway was that the president has no intention of caving on this,” the Center for Immigration's Studies's Mark Krikorian, who attended the conservative confab, told Power Up. “There was no discussion of what further concessions might be made after Thursday's votes fail to get to 60.”
- “I think almost everyone there said we could live with this because there was some worry [Trump] was offering amnesty ... but a lot of them said don’t slide any more on this because some are worried it will be a big amnesty bill,” said the Heritage Foundation's Stephen Moore, who also attended the meeting, referring to Trump's Saturday proposal.
- Hold the line: A number of other conservatives who attended the meeting said Trump's mission was to encourage those present to help ensure that skeptical Republican senators show a united front at Senate votes today. Trump specifically called out Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Tom Cotton (R- Ark.) for expressing concerns that the proposal including protections for some immigrants wasn't conservative enough, according to Krikorian.
- “He seemed concerned he might lose a couple of votes,” Moore told us. “But he seemed to think that there's more cracks on their side than on our side . . . I think he feels that the longer this goes on the weaker his position is going to get.”
- Sources in the room told us that Trump pointed out that shutting down the government costs more than building the wall, “so this is kind of stupid and every day this goes on the cost gets higher,” Moore added, paraphrasing Trump.
- Example of a vote lost: Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) announced on Wednesday night that he intended to break with the party on Trump's wall, per The Denver Post's editorial board, and vote for the Democratic proposal to open the government.
Vice President Pence, Jared Kushner, and other White House staffers also attended the meeting yesterday in which Trump told the group he had been “advised by some people to include the whole DACA plus population” in a proposal to end the shutdown. Sources in the room said it was implicit that Trump was referring to Kushner when it came to such language, who was later ribbed by Trump.
“Jared was all the way at the end of the table,” Krikorian said. “The VP got up to leave and said, 'Jared come take this seat.' And said he said, 'Oh no, I’m fine back here.' And then Trump made some joke like, 'He’s way over on the left….' He was ribbing him, in other words about how, basically he’s a Democrat. But it’s funny that Trump was acknowledging that … Jared seemed to be taking it in good stride.”
Adding to conservative anxiety: The Post's Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa dive deeper into Kushner's emergence as an “omnipresent and assertive player in the now-33-day impasse, despite deep skepticism on Capitol Hill about his political abilities and influence, according to more than a dozen Trump associates, lawmakers and others involved in the discussions.”
“Convinced that Senate Democrats will eventually crack and that there are votes for a bipartisan agreement, Kushner has urged the president to dig in while also adjusting his position as his popularity suffers in public polls, according to a person close to him and White House officials,” report Dawsey and Costa.
More: “Kushner, who referred a request for comment to the White House, has told Trump advisers that he has solid relationships with several Democrats, such as Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), and that he can sell a compromise to moderate Democrats and Republicans with whom he built a rapport while working on the criminal-justice bill. But a number of key Senate Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), haven’t heard from Kushner in weeks, according to aides. And aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) say he has played no role in their discussions to reopen the government.”
A fundamental disconnect: “Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump and Kushner ally who presided over an unpopular shutdown during the Clinton administration, said there is 'tension between what Jared is trying to accomplish and what some people in the White House are trying to block.'”
“Shahira Knight, the legislative affairs director, has expressed unease with the White House’s operation during the shutdown. Another senior White House official called Kushner’s positioning 'delusional.'”
Pelosi, for her part, did some corralling of her own on Wednesday, according to the New York Times's Sheryl Gay Stolberg:
- Stolberg reports: “During a closed-door meeting with House Democrats on Wednesday morning, Ms. Pelosi urged her caucus to stay unified and not to peel off and begin negotiating with the president on his terms, which could muddle the stark differences between Mr. Trump and them on a critical issue. She also told rank-and-file lawmakers that they should not get 'too bogged down' on what legislation was being voted upon — a direct message to some of her restive centrist freshmen, who have been meeting with Republican freshmen to discuss a bipartisan path out of the shutdown. The appeal seems to have worked; as they emerged from the closed-door meeting, rank-and-file Democrats appeared united behind their leaders’ demand that the government open before border security negotiations took place.”
Trump did make one concession to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democrats on Twitter late last night that he would, in fact, wait to deliver the State of the Union until the government shutdown is over. That came after Pelosi stated she wouldn't pass a measure allowing the president to use the House chamber to give the speech on Jan. 29.
On The Hill
JONI ERNST'S #METOO MOMENT: In her first interview since details of her divorce from her husband were divulged, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs that she “was raped in college by someone she knew and that her ex-husband physically abused her, making her one of the highest-profile Republican women in her party to allege assaults in the era of the #MeToo movement.”
“I didn’t want to share it with anybody, and in the era of hashtag-MeToo survivors, I always believed that every person is different and they will confront their demons when they’re ready,” Ernst told Jacobs in the interview. “And I was not ready.”
“I do believe she experienced trauma, but the evidence and witnesses presented by her contradicted her story,” Ernst said of her decision to vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whom Christine Blasey Ford accused of sexual assault. “I don’t believe Justice Kavanaugh was the source of her trauma.”
“I’m seeking re-election. I’m going to do it as a single woman,” Ernst added. “People know my situation now. What I can do is be honest about what happened. And I can move forward. The problem is now I’ve been outed when I was not ready to talk about it. But now maybe it forces me to talk about it.”
THANK U, NEXT: President Trump yesterday embraced Venezuela's opposition leader, dubbing National Assembly President Juan Guaidó the legitimate leader of that country, which has been thrown into chaos over protests against actual President Nicolás Maduro.
- Trump said: “In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolás Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant. The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law.”
- Maduro said: Maduro reacted by giving U.S. diplomats in Venezuela 72 hours to leave the country.
- And Guaidó said: “Before a cheering throng, the 35-year-old industrial engineer and recently named head of the country’s National Assembly took the long-awaited step Wednesday of declaring himself interim president — in an attempt to replace Maduro as the legitimate head of state . . . Though stripped of its power by Maduro, the assembly is widely recognized internationally as the country’s last democratic institution,” reported my colleagues Mariana Zuñiga, Anthony Faiola and Rachelle Krygier from on the ground in Caracas. “Though stripped of its power by Maduro, the assembly is widely recognized internationally as the country’s last democratic institution.”
- What does it mean? Guaidó's declaration “is set to dramatically escalate international attempts led by the United States to force Maduro from office after elections last year seen as a fraudulent power grab, even as it is set to put Guaidó at high risk in a country were opposition leaders have been arrested, tortured and exiled.”
In context: “Recognizing Guaidó as president would have a significant effect on how U.S. officials handle their relationship with their Venezuelan counterparts. In particular, it may mean that Venezuela’s diplomatic presence in Washington would need to change because the accredited diplomats would no longer represent the recognized government,” writes The Post's Adam Taylor.
- Fun fact: The longest unrecognized government that was actually in control of a country was communist China, according to David Bosco, an associate professor at Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies, who Adam cites. “From the time that the nationalist regime collapsed in China until the early 1970s, the U.S. recognized the government in Taiwan as the legitimate government of all China,” Bosco notes.
MORE BOOKS: The Post's Jason Rezaian, previewing an excerpt from his book “Prisoner,” which will be published on Jan. 22, describes his first terrifying hours in Iranian custody followed by 18 months spent in Iran's Evin prison. Read below for parts of his harrowing account that all started with his joke project he called The Iranian Avocado Quest . . .:
“Do you know why you are here, Mr. Jason?” “No,” I said, turning my head in the direction of his voice. “You’re the head of the American CIA station in Tehran,” he said. He never raised his voice, but he was accusatory: “We know it. And you have a choice. Tell us everything, and you’ll go home. You’ll get on that flight to the United States on Friday as planned, but you’ll be starting a new life working for the Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic.” The offer was absurd in its directness and so I didn't think he was completely serious. “If not, you must change your clothes. When you put the prison clothes on it’s not clear how long you’re going to be here. The odds are you will spend the rest of your life as our guest. You’ll never get out of here. So tell us everything.”
In an excerpt release on Wednesday evening that quickly bounced it's way into the text threads of administration officials and reporters around Washington, former Trump aide Cliff Sims released an excerpt of his upcoming book, “Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House,” in Vanity Fair. In the piece, Sims “recalls the leaking, the gossiping, and the infighting that made Kellyanne Conway such a formidable player in the White House.”
- Sims writes that Conway asked him to draft a statement for her in response to claims from “Morning Joe” hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough that Kellyanne was “two-faced when it came to Donald Trump.”
- “I was a little surprised when she called me upstairs to her office to discuss issuing a response. I assumed this was because she feared Trump would believe the charges, which might threaten her plum White House position of doing whatever it was she wanted whenever she felt like it . . . I had not brought my work laptop upstairs with me when she called, so Kellyanne pointed over to her personal MacBook sitting on the conference table on the other side of the room” for Sims to use.
- “Over the course of 20 minutes or so, she was having simultaneous conversations with no fewer than a half-dozen reporters, most of them from outlets the White House frequently trashed for publishing 'fake news.' Journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Politico, and Bloomberg were all popping up on the screen. And these weren’t policy conversations, or attempts to fend off attacks on the president. As I sat there trying to type, she bashed Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Sean Spicer, all by name,” Sims writes.
- Conway disputed Sims's claims to Power Up: “If I were a big leaker, I'd probably get much better press.” She added that the premise of Sims's story was incorrect and that her husband George Conway, a prolific tweeter often critical of the president, helped her with the May 2017 response to the “Morning Joe” attacks.
- “Sims talks of a May 2017 'body guy' in my office. That gentleman did not start until September 2017,” Conway added.
- A source close to Conway texted in response to the Vanity Fair article: “She could probably blow up the White House in 2 or 3 tweets. People would literally have to run for cover.”
COHEN BACKS OUT: The New York Times's Maggie Haberman broke the news that Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, “indefinitely postponed his congressional testimony” set for Feb. 7, due to alleged verbal attacks from Trump, according to Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis.
- Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and chairman of the House Oversight Committee who invited Cohen to testify responded: “The most upsetting thing about all of this is the fact that Mr. Cohen was intimidated . . . And not only was he intimidated, but he believes his family also has been intimidated and threatened.”
- Trump responded by telling reporters at the White House that Cohen has “only been threatened by the truth.”
- CNN's Jeremy Herb reports that Cummings will decide whether to issue a subpoena: “I promise you we will hear from Mr. Cohen. Now, we will make those determinations soon and we will let you know how we plan to proceed, but we will get the testimony as sure as night becomes day and day becomes night,” Cummings said.
A quick smart take from our Oversight expert Kurt Bardella, who worked for then-Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) when he chaired the committee: “You only get one opportunity to make a good first impression,” Bardella told Power Up of the Democrat's first Oversight hearing in the majority. And you don't necessarily get to make a good impression by having Cohen as your first hearing, he argues.
- “With new members being highly scrutinized on how they perform, this hearing is so high stakes that it makes more sense to have your first major hearing someone like [Commerce Secretary] Wilbur Ross instead or another member of the Trump administration and tangible examples of wrongdoings you could point to. But with Cohen, it was going to be much more of a theatrical show . . . There are too many wild cards with the Cohen hearing,” Bardella argued.
ZERO GROWTH? YES, ZERO GROWTH.