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On The Hill

TO “FINISH THE WALL” OR NOT?: On the precipice of another government shutdown, lawmakers came to an agreement “in principle” last night that gives President Trump "$1.375 billion for border barriers (55 new miles of bollard fencing, with certain restrictions on location)," according to my colleagues Erica Werner, Damian Paletta and Sean Sullivan.

In case you haven't already done the math yourself, that number is well below Trump's original request for $5.7 billion to build 200 miles of wall along the southern border. The deal immediately failed the Sean Hannity test. 

Democrats also gave in on a key point: lowering the cap on the number of detention beds that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has at its disposal, which they argued was a necessary check on Trump's immigrantion crackdown. Democrats "dropped their call for a new cap on interior detention beds, and the overall cap on detention beds drops from 49,057 to 40,520," my colleagues report. 

Evergreen: The success of the agreement is still contingent on the president and “while congressional negotiators said they were hopeful Trump would sign off on the deal, they said they had not been given assurances.”

  • Speaking in El Paso in front of banners reading "Finish the Wall," Trump told the crowd he opted not to be briefed on the deal prior to taking the stage. But he added: "Just so you know, we're building the wall anyway."
  • In an interview with Fox News's Laura Ingraham, Trump  divorced himself from the deal and said he had the choice between sitting down for an interview and reviewing the details of the pact. "But, yes, they’re talking and we’ll see what happens," Trump added. 

The Post's Robert Costa gleaned several telling tidbits late last night about the White House's preliminary reaction to the news: 

  • “White House officials on Monday night reviewed the terms but did not indicate an immediate position. They are keeping options open, including using executive power to reallocate federal funds from elsewhere for a wall, according to two people familiar with the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly,” Costa reports. 

  • “One official said Trump could sign the deal but still pursue using executive authority to send more troops to the border and put funding toward wall projects,” Costa writes. 

A congressional aide familiar with negotiations told Power Up that Democratic concession on the ICE cap was a crucial prerequisite to brokering a deal. While some of the White House's assertions about Democrats' demands regarding beds were incorrect, even top officials who worked on immigration issues during the Obama administration were left scratching their heads at why Democrats had decided to latch onto this issue at the 11th hour. 

  • The former commissioner of Customs and Border Protection under Obama, Gil Kerlikowske, told Power Up that it didn't seem to be "a strong argument on [Democrats'] behalf." 
  • “I think when you try to put a cap on beds, you may be sending a message that once we’ve run out of beds, we’ll have to release people into the interior,” Kerlikowske told us. “Especially if the asylum deal with Mexico doesn't work out. Regardless of where you sit on that issue, you want to give [Customs and Border Patrol] and ICE some flexibility with detention."

  •  Sarah Saldaña, the former ICE director under Obama, told Power Up that "both sides do not have to be fighting over the number of beds."

Displeased: Nevertheless, immigration hard-liners on the right were quick to express their displeasure with the deal, which did see a drop in detention beds from 49,057 to 40,520. Blowback from the right echo-chamber has in the past dictated where Trump will go on an issue: 

  • Mark Krikorian, who has previously met with Trump at the White House to discuss the wall, tweeted: “Reduction in ICE detention capacity more than cancels out any benefit from that small amount of extra fencing.”
  • Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) tweeted“This conference agreement is hardly a serious attempt to secure our border or stop the flow of illegal immigration. It kicks the can down the road yet again, failing to address the critical priorities outlined by Border Patrol Chiefs. Congress is not doing its job.”
  • Fact Check: So disillusioned with Trump's failure to secure funding to build the wall, Ann Coulter assumed the role of fact-checker during Trump's rally: “GOP: PLEASE DROP THE LYING “FINISH THE WALL” SIGNS. Dems are the party of liars, not us,” she tweeted. 
  • She's not wrong: Despite Trump's claims otherwise, “no new miles of barriers have been built. Some existing barriers have been replaced,” per the New York Times. 
  • (The crowd was not fooled: as the crowd chanted “Build the wall,” Trump tried to correct them. “Finish that wall,” he instructed.) 

Spoiler: The link is to "U.S. Code § 284 - Support for counter drug activities and activities to counter transnational organized crime"

"The Secretary of Defense may provide support for the counter drug activities or activities to counter transnational organized crime of any other department or agency of the Federal Government or of any State, local, tribal, or foreign law enforcement agency for any of the purposes set forth in subsection (b) or (c), as applicable" 



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IS IT TOO LATE NOW TO SAY SORRY?: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) apologized for tweeting what many saw as an anti-Semitic trope on Sunday evening suggesting that pro-Israel lawmakers in Congress are motivated by money they receive from lobbyists. Omar's tweet -- "It's all about the Benjamins baby" -- sparked a harsh condemnation from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders.

  • “Legitimate criticism of Israel's policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the U.S. and Israel share. But Congresswoman Omar's use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel's supporters is deeply offensive. We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments,” Pelosi and the leadership said in a joint statement. 
  • In her statement, Omar said she never intended to offend "my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole... This is why I unequivocally apologize" but added that she reaffirms "the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It's gone on too long and we must be willing to address it." 

The episode laid bare the tensions we outlined last week between the factions within the Democratic Party over what's been unwavering U.S. support of Israel versus new voices like Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) speaking out on behalf of Palestinians.

  • “But for most Democrats on Monday, Omar’s tweets crossed the line by playing into ancient stereotypes about wealthy Jews — forcing action from party leaders who had brushed off earlier accusations of anti-Semitism against Omar and [Tlaib], the only two Muslim women in Congress," my colleagues Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade report. 
  • The key quote: “For many Democrats, the notion that they are suddenly on the defensive over anti-Semitism is bewildering, if not infuriating . . . Republican leaders for years dismissed racially charged statements by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and did not respond after he used a congressional trip last year to meet with members of a far-right Austrian party with historical Nazi ties. Only after King seemed to defend white supremacy last month did they act.” 
  • Trump told reporters on Monday night that Omar "should be ashamed of herself."

Presumably in response to the day's firestorm, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) tweeted about the prejudices she thinks she faces as one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress: "The hardest part of serving in Congress as a WOC [woman of color] & as a 'first' is how people hear you differently. No matter how much we take on the hate & stay true to who we are through our experiences, our voices are shushed and reduced. We aren't perfect, but neither is this institution.”

Outside the Beltway

BETO-MANIA REBOOT: Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke appeared at a dueling rally along the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso last night. As Trump mocked the potential 2020 rival for his failed Senate bid and called for a wall in order to save lives, O'Rourke spoke about walls ending lives and led a march to a park right outside of the coliseum that Trump was speaking at. 

  • “In one of the safest cities in the U.S., safe not because of walls but in spite of wall," O'Rourke told the crowd. "Secure because we treat one another with dignity and respect. That is the way we make our communities and our country safe." (El Paso officials also rebuked the president's characterization of their city.)
  • “We can show the rest of the country . . . that walls do not make us safer,” O'Rourke said, 

O'Rourke pulled a crowd of around 7,000 people according to The Texas Tribune's Patrick Svitek and Julian Aguilar and was peppered with questions from media outlets about his prospects for 2020.

  • “I'm gonna follow the community’s lead, and that’s what for me tonight is all about, nothing less and nothing more,” O'Rourke told reporters on a conference call hours before the march,” per The Texas Tribune. 

P.S.: We see you Annie Leibovitz standing behind O'Rourke onstage. Perhaps there's a glossy magazine profile coming soon? 

2020 RUNS THROUGH MADDOW: Meanwhile, fresh 2020 candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) made the obligatory stop on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC cable show last night where she said that she wanted to be seen by voters as a progressive (and not a centrist or moderate) and reiterated that she loves her staff and knows that she has high expectations for herself and the people who work with her. 

My colleague Jeff Stein has a helpful rundown on Klobuchar's key policies going into 2020: 

  • Klobuchar "is running for president on a policy agenda of lowering prescription drug costs, expanded savings accounts to help people save for their educations, and a slew of Internet-related policies, including expanding rural broadband and tougher privacy laws, according to aides to the senator," Stein reports. 
  • Key: “Klobuchar, who has withheld her support from the more liberal proposals made by Democratic lawmakers, will also push for automatically registering all eligible voters, an overhaul of election security, and committing the United States to the Paris agreement to combat climate change, aides said,” per Stein. 

Probably not the positive feedback Klobuchar wants as she's pitching herself as a progressive, from former Repulican National Committee Chair Michael Steele: “Watching @amyklobuchar interview with @maddow. Dems don't sell the Senator short on her appeal across the Heartland of America. You will need to compete in that space a year from now.”

Global Power

MEANWHILE, IN VENEZUELA: Nearly three weeks after the U.S. called for President Nicolás Maduro to step down and recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president, Maduro is still clinging to power.  Today, the special envoy overseeing policy towards Venezuela, neoconservative Elliott Abrams, will appear before Congress to testify at the House Foreign Affairs Committee's hearing titled "Venezuela at a Crossroads." This marks the first time Abrams has spoken at length on behalf of the Trump administration about the U.S. involvement in the country's political struggle. 

Update: "Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, said on Monday his team had delivered a first cargo of the humanitarian aid that has become a flashpoint in his tussle with President Nicolas Maduro, without specifying how it had received it," Reuters Fabian Cambero and Sara Marsh write.  

  • More: “Today we delivered the first donation, or the first cargo of humanitarian aid, albeit on a small scale, because you know they have blocked the border for the time being,” Guaido, 35, said in televised remarks in Caracas on Monday evening," per Reuters. 

Delivery problems: Despite issues with delivering the aid, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker told NBC News that "U.S. involvement stops at the Colombian border, where the Guaidó-led opposition will be charged with distributing the aid inside Venezuela, a seemingly tall task as Maduro shows no signs of conceding." 

Today's hearing: Abrams will likely face some pointed questions from lawmakers about his role as the U.S. point person on Venezuela because of his controversial past in the region. Abrams, the former assistant secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, was convicted in the Iran-Contra affair for "his attempt to discredit accounts of the massacre of nearly 1,000 people by a US-trained military battalion in El Salvador," per CNN's Ray Sanchez.

  • "Elliott Abrams, like his neo-conservative colleague John Bolton, believes in using US power to overthrow regimes Washington doesn't like, not negotiate with them," William LeoGrande, an American University professor who specializes in Latin American politics and U.S. foreign policy, told CNN. "He is the wrong person for the job of Venezuelan envoy, because as long as the military remains loyal to Maduro, the only way out of the Venezuelan crisis is some sort negotiated settlement."


Because everyone could use a cocktail/ mocktail: