At the White House
STATE OF DISUNITY: A historically long shutdown. No wall. Senate Republicans warning against a national emergency declaration to get the wall. Weaponized leaks from his own staff and splashy headlines from tell-all books. Bickering with his intelligence chiefs. The release of the Mueller report. Congressional investigations starting this week. “A subpoena blizzard.” And a percolating 2020 Democratic primary.
These controversies overshadow any sort of legislative plans Trump might have for the next two years (though Hill aides previously told us they are hard pressed to think of any). The president intends to talk "unity" in his State of the Union address tomorrow night, but his own words and actions have sewn division in his party and among voters, and turning the ship of state -- if Trump is serious about it -- will be extremely difficult.
So what *can* we expect from Trump's speech tomorrow?:
- Reset: “Together we can break decades of political stalemate,” Trump plans to say, according to an excerpt of his prepared remarks offered by a senior administration official who briefed reporters last week. “We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future. The decision is ours to make.”
- Domestic policy: “Although the fight for a border wall has been a chief focus of Trump’s for the past two months, the president’s advisers said his address would not be an immigration-centric jeremiad, but rather would set a governing agenda for the year ahead. For instance, Trump plans to talk about infrastructure development and prescription-drug pricing, two issues with broad bipartisan appeal, according to a senior White House official,” per The Post's Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Toluse Olorunnipa
- What a difference a year makes: In last year's joint address to Congress, Trump spoke at length about immigration. He outlined a four-pillar proposal to accomplish what he called “critical reforms” to the immigration system. “The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age — that covers almost three times more people than the previous administration,” he said at the time.
Foreign policy: “The president also is expected to talk about foreign affairs and highlight his administration’s recent moves in Venezuela to force President Nicolás Maduro from power, as well as Trump’s ongoing trade negotiations with China and his planned summit later this month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un,” The Post reports. He will also touch upon his plans to bring an end to U.S. foreign wars in Syria and Afghanistan.
Trump on ISIS last year: “Last year, I also pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth. One year later, I am proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria. But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated,” he vowed.
Public health: Politico's Dan Diamond reports that Trump will also promise to end the HIV epidemic in America on Tuesday night. “Under Trump’s 10-year strategy, health officials would target the U.S. communities with the most HIV infections and work to reduce transmissions by 2030. The strategy has been championed by top health officials, including HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield,” Diamond reports.
Aides on the Hill told Power Up last week that if Trump declares a national emergency to build a wall along the southern border, he will have a difficult time pivoting to other legislative priorities -- even with Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned the president last week that he doesn't support declaring an emergency, and that lawmakers might rebuke him if he declares one.
But some Hill aides wondered out loud about the contours of Trump's legislative “priorities” and said trade and prescription drug pricing will have congressional support with or without the president.
Regardless, Trump might benefit tomorrow night from staggeringly low expectations:
- “At other points, presidents facing dropping poll numbers have chosen to be very conciliatory or very optimistic,” Michael Waldman, who as chief White House speechwriter helped pen President Clinton’s State of the Union in the wake of two government shutdowns between 1995 and 1996, told The Post. “That would surprise everyone here. I don’t know that it’s in Trump’s repertoire. When he does it, it feels like he’s reading under duress from the teleprompter — and everybody knows when he gets back to the White House, he’ll start tweeting again.”
- “For Trump, right now, this is ‘go time,’” Republican pollster Frank Luntz told Rucker, Dawsey and Olorunnipa. “This speech, on this night, is not what you are against. It is what you are for. Tell the American people what you want to do and why.”
About that emergency declaration, from House Deputy Minority Whip Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.):
Trump sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Face the Nation anchor Margaret Brennan on Sunday. Brennan tweeted about the interview, “In my view, @realDonaldTrump is a president who you need to HEAR deliver his views. Tone, inflection, and unique rapid fire delivery are part of understanding context.” Some highlights:
- Trump on his 13-year-old son Barron playing football: “He’s liking soccer. And a lot of people, including me, thought soccer would probably never make it in this country, but it really is moving forward rapidly. I, I just don’t like the reports that I see coming out having to do with football — I mean, it’s a dangerous sport, and I think it’s … really tough, I thought the equipment would get better, and it has,” Trump told Brennan.
- Trump declined to comment on whether or not the Mueller report should be made public: “Totally up to the attorney general,” Trump said. “That’s up to the attorney general. I don’t know. It depends. I have no idea what it’s going to say.”
- Does Trump trust John Bolton, a former Bush administration staffer and Iraq War advocate?: After Trump pointed to the Iraq War as an example of why a president sometimes needs to disagree with assessments of his intelligence chiefs, Brennan asked if Trump trusted his national security adviser John Bolton, who advocated for the Iraq War. “I do, and I respect John and John is not one of the people that happened to be testifying,” Trump replied.
- On ISIS: One of the most remarkable exchanges was when Trump stated if there is a resurgence of terrorist groups in Syria or Afghanistan after U.S. withdrawal, the United States would simply return to the region. "And you know what we'll do? We'll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I'm not leaving. We have a base in Iraq and the base is a fantastic edifice. I mean I was there recently, and I couldn't believe the money that was spent on these massive runways . . . I've rarely seen anything like it. And it's there. And we'll be there. And frankly, we're hitting the caliphate from Iraq and as we slowly withdraw from Syria,” Trump told Brennan.
On The Hill
THE FIGHT FOR THE WALL, IRL: The fight over Trump's wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will be represented through lawmakers' SOTU guests. Democrats plan to bring to the speech refugees, immigrants, and former Trump Organization staffers while Republicans will be seated with Border Patrol staff and the parents of children killed by illegal immigrants. Power Up touched base with Ryan Hampton, an activist in recovery from heroin addiction and the author of "American Fix” who will be also be a guest of House Democrats tomorrow night.
Hampton, who worked with Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and the White House to pass an opioid recovery and treatment bill, represents a different anti-wall contingency. His message to Trump: "Stop using the opioid crisis as your rationale for the wall -- it's a wrong and dangerous narrative," Hampton told us.
- “It's an easy prop for the president, but while he was perpetuating this during the 34 day government, 6,698 people died from an opioid overdose,” Hampton told us based off the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's total number of people who died from an overdose in 2017.
- “There is a narrative out there that if we get this border wall, which is an unsophisticated solution to the massive public health problem, that it will stop the crisis,” Hampton explained. “It’s the same mentality of the failed tactics from the war on drugs.”
- Hampton has a point: The majority of opioids entering the United States are coming through legal points of entry. Just last week, the largest ever stash of fentanyl was seized by U.S. Customs and. Border Protection officials at a legal border crossing in Arizona.
“Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies drug policy, said most drugs are smuggled into the United States through legal ports of entry. The drugs that do enter the United States are rarely carried by undocumented migrants, she said,” The Post's Siobhán O'Grady reported last week.
“The majority of the illicit drugs enter the United States through legal ports of entry, according to the DEA report,” per The Post's Fact Checker Nicole Lewis.
- “I would be absolutely shocked if the president did not mention the opioid crisis during his speech — I expect him to talk about it but my hope is that he talks about it from a public health standpoint,” Hampton said. Otherwise, he added, the narrative "is a slap in the face too anyone who actually has suffered from opioid addiction."
Trump's National Drug Control Strategy released last week did not call for the construction of a physical wall to curb illicit drug trafficking across the border. The 23-page report, which was two years in the making, also did not unveil much new policy outside of things the administration is already doing like "reducing the drug supply through stricter law enforcement, lowering first-time opioid prescription rates, and expanding access to addiction treatment," STAT News's Lev Facher writes.
- “The report included few concrete metrics by which the administration will measure successful policy outcomes. The top listed priority, according to the strategy document: that 'the number of Americans dying from a drug overdose is significantly reduced within five years,' Facher reports.
In other opioid-related news, the New York Times reports the McKinsey consulting firm was advising Purdue Pharma on how to "'turbocharge' sales of OxyContin, how to counter efforts by drug enforcement agents to reduce opioid use, and were part of a team that looked at how 'to counter the emotional messages from mothers with teenagers that overdosed' on the drug,” Michael Forsythe and Walt Bogdanich report.
WAR OF WORDS (FOR NOW): Venezuelan President Maduro said Trump will exit the White House "stained with blood" if he persists on trying to oust him while throwing his weight behind Guaidó, the National Assembly leader who last week declared himself the country's interim president with U.S. backing.
- Translation (literal one), from The Guardian: "'Stop. Stop, Trump! Hold it right there! You are making mistakes that will leave your hands covered in blood and you will leave the presidency stained with blood,'" Maduro warned during a combative interview with the Spanish journalist Jordi Évole. “Why would you want a repeat of Vietnam?”
- “If the north American empire attacks us, we will have to defend ourselves … We aren’t going to hand Venezuela over,” Maduro said, per The Guardian.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Caracas to protest Maduro's government on Saturday. And things grew even more heated as the Trump administration, along with the Venezuelan opposition, are preparing shipments of humanitarian aid to the embattled country.
- What: "We will mobilize to demand that the armed forces allow the entry of humanitarian aid,” Guaidó said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
- Why? "The strategy deployed by Mr. Guaidó and the U.S. seeks to sow divisions within Venezuela’s armed forces. The army’s support has allowed Mr. Maduro to hold power despite hyperinflation, food shortages and a steep economic contraction that have ravaged the oil-rich nation and led to widespread calls for his ouster," the Journal reports.
- "It's an option," Trump told Brennan on Sunday regarding U.S. military intervention in Venezuela, adding that Maduro requested a meeting with him (no word on when or if).
Outside the Beltway
NORTHAM WATCH: The governor of Virginia called an unscheduled, "emotional” staff meeting just before the start of the Superbowl as he considers resigning and has another one planned for this morning. The Post reports Ralph Northam has not yet made a final decision about whether to step down after two days of standing his ground -- first apologizing, then insisting he was not a participant in a racist picture published in his 1984 medical school yearbook.
- The key quote: “Above all else, the governor sees himself as a man of integrity, and as he struggled to explain himself Saturday, he seemed painfully aware that most of his listeners thought he was lying, so he worked hard to convince them he was telling the truth, from The Post's Jenna Portnoy, Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella. “I tell the truth,” Northam said in denying appearing in the photo. “I'm telling the truth today.”
But national Democrats, concerned about the impact of Northam's staying at the helm of a key swing state in 2020, were relentless in calling for him to step down. They include:
- Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez
- Ex-Virginia Gov. and Northam friend Terry McAuliffe, who described himself as “heartbroken” over the photo: “It doesn’t matter whether he was in the photo, or not in the photo at this point,” McAuliffe said on CNN’s 'State of the Union.' “We have to close that chapter.”
- Virginia Rep. Donald McEachin, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus: “He’s lost the authority to lead,” said McEachin, who served in the Virginia Senate with Northam, per Jenna, Greg and Laura. “He’s lost the authority to govern. He has to resign. It’s in the best interest of the commonwealth. It’s in the best interest of the party.”
- CBC Chairwoman Karen Bass (Calif.) noted Northam seemed about to moon walk, though he was stopped by his wife, after admitting he rubbed shoe polish on his face dressing up as Michael Jackson. “He was completely disingenuous when he talked about he didn’t understand this in 1984 and that this was commonplace,” Bass said. “He basically said he participated in it.”
- Most top 2020 candidates
All eyes are on Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who is African American and would replace Northam if he resigns.
- Then: When he was sworn-in last year, Fairfax kept in his pocket a copy of the document that freed his great-great-great grandfather from slavery, report the New York Times's Mitch Smith and Sandra E. Garcia.
- “When state legislators moved to honor the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Mr. Fairfax left the Senate dais as a form of quiet protest. And after a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, Mr. Fairfax offered his support for efforts to remove a statue of Lee,” they add
- Now: Following Northam's Saturday news conference, Fairfax said this: “Northam’s actions 'at the very least' indicated 'a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping and intimidation,'" the Times reported. He didn't call for Northam's resignation.
And: The 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook has more than one photo of someone in blackface, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.
- “On the page opposite Northam’s . . . there’s a photo of three men in blackface. Another photo in the same yearbook shows one of the men wearing a wig and black paint on his face. At least one other blackface photo appears in the 1984 yearbook, with a caption referencing a song by the Supremes: “‘Baby Love,’ who ever thought Diana Ross would make it to Medical School!”
- Backstory: The Post's Paul Farhi reports the source of the tip for Northam's yearbook page "appears to have been a medical school classmate or classmates of Northam who acted as a direct result of the abortion controversy that erupted earlier in the week, according to two people at Big League Politics, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.”
The Richmond Times-Dispatch front pages from Saturday and Sunday explain the chaos:
In the Media
From the National Republican Congressional Committee's former communications director: Republicans need to do better with women, starting with getting them elected. By Matt Gorman for Fox News.
Brilliant: Are Greasy Snacks Smearing Your Phone? Japan Has Found A Solution. By the Wall Street Journal's George Nishiyama.
Hardly or always working?: Insider leaks Trump's "Executive Time" -filled private schedules. By Axios's Alexi McCammond and Jonathan Swan.
Hardly or always working II: Trump just played a round of golf with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus