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At the White House

"$23 BILLION"?: President Trump signaled he will sign the bipartisan border security deal hatched by Congress that secures $1.38 billion for 55 miles of physical barriers on the southern border, averting another government shutdown this week.

But because that number falls well short of the $5.7 billion he has been demanding, Trump is pledging to secure the rest through alternative means. "$23 BILLION for Border Security" is the number Trump arrived at via Twitter yesterday, claiming the deal will be "hooked up with lots of money from other sources."  

"I'm extremely unhappy with what the Democrats have given us," Trump complained to reporters yesterday. But he added he would be securing additional money from "far less important areas."  

The White House has been identifying various ways to patch together wall money through executive action, shifting around funding from existing programs and/or by declaring a national emergency. The latter choice is more of a political risk, but Republican lawmakers yesterday indicated support for finding the wall money in whatever way possible.

  • “He ought to feel free to use any tools he can legally use to enhance his efforts to secure the border,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, adding that Trump "got a pretty good deal here." 
  • " I do think most Republicans believe he has authority and determination to get the money through other means. But prefer that it happens through Congress," a senior GOP aide on the Hill told us. 
  • "At this point it’s clear: POTUS should take executive action,"Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) tweeted.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says he thinks Trump will reprogram money and also declare a national emergency. "Absolutely,” Graham said when asked if he thinks Trump will declare a national emergency, “because he's well short of what he needs," ABC News's Mary Bruce, Katherine Faulders, Mariam Khan and Trish Turner report

Below are some of the options being floated -- although it's still unclear how they add up to the $23 billion figure Trump is now touting: 

  • "The emerging consensus among acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and top budget officials is to shift money from two Army Corps of Engineers’ flood control projects in Northern California, as well as from disaster relief funds intended for California and Puerto Rico," Politico's Nancy Cook and Eliana Johnson report. 
  • "The plan will also tap unspent Department of Defense funds for military construction, like family housing or infrastructure for military bases, according to three sources familiar with the negotiations," Cook and Johnson add. 
  • "Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and others pointed specifically to a military program providing for the construction of roads and fences to block drug smuggling, which Blunt said could offer $881 million for the president’s purposes," The Post's Erica Werner, Sean Sullivan, Damian Paletta, and John Wagner report. 

There were various interpretations of the deal from the conservative media choir that my colleague Philip Bump referred to as a "modern-day presidential whip count." Regardless, Trump seems to have found some political cover that he's been looking for. 

  • Loss: "Trump talks a good game on the border wall but it's increasingly clear he's afraid to fight for it. Call this his 'Yellow New Deal,'" Ann Coulter tweeted. 
  • Win: “He can portray it as a win because the Democrats were offering zip, zero, nada even though it’s less than what Trump said he wanted,” Rush Limbaugh said on his radio program. "Then the president can continue in his efforts."
  • Something in between: "Trump is not only fighting Democrats, he’s also fighting the Republicans on immigration. This is a cram-though and pushed by mostly #NeverTrump crowd," Laura Ingraham tweeted.

Bottom line: This is a loss for the president on his signature campaign issue and Republicans on the Hill, who were willing to shut down the government for 34 days starting in December, are no longer so willing to follow Trump over another precipice. Everyone we talked to just said they needed a deal, any deal, to prevent Shutdown II.

  • "Nobody wants to close the government down again -- so they are all going along with this ability to find the money plan. But if it was true [that he could get wall money through other means], then why did we close down [the government] for however long it was?" a GOP staffer on the Hill told Power Up. 
  • "The (accidental?) genius of Trump's style of communicating is that he doesn't just make an argument. He makes *every* argument. He's the have your cake and eat it too President. It's a bad deal and it's a good deal. That way everyone hears what they want! Partisan confirmation bias to the extreme," said another GOP Hill aide.

 

 

 

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TERMINATORS: If Congress wanted to commit the ultimate act of defiance against Trump, they have at least one tool at their disposal.

NPR's Tamara Keith took a smart look a Congress's ability to rescind an emergency declaration under the National Emergencies Act of 1976. In the 40-plus years since the law was passed, only one member of Congress has exercised this power, Keith reports.

Former Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced a 2005 resolution after President George W. Bush "issued a proclamation saying government contractors could pay workers less than usual for recovery-related projects,"  justifying it by saying the conditions caused by Hurricane Katrina constituted a "national emergency." But Miller and other members of Congress called the move an "insult" to people doing disaster relief work.  

  • "Under the law, the relevant committee had 15 days to consider the measure and vote. Fourteen days later, President Bush announced he would revoke his own proclamation. That was the closest Congress ever came to voting to rescind a presidential emergency under the 1976 law," Keith reports. 

Notable: Why and when the law passed. It was post-Watergate and the Vietnam War when Congress was "reaching to claw back power from what was then known as an imperial presidency," John Lawrence, a young congressional staffer at the time, told Keith. 

  • "At the time, there were nearly 500 emergency-related statutes on the books, granting the president special powers when he declared a national emergency but with little ability for Congress to constrain the president," per Keith.  "If the Democrat-controlled House were to pass it, the Republican-controlled Senate would have no choice but to vote on it under the law. Several Republican senators have been cautioning the president not to put them in that position." 
  • Liza Goitein, director of the national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told USA Today's Gregory Korte that Congress seems to have "woken up to the idea that the process for declaring emergencies is too permissive" and that it wouldn't look good if Republicans ended up overturning a decision by Trump.
  • "This isn’t going to look good if the Republican Senate is voting to curtail the president's power. It’s going to split Republicans and force Republicans to take a vote they don’t want to take – and it may not go Trump's way," Goitein told Korte. 

Outside the Beltway

LATE BLOOMERS: There's already a multitude of Democrats who have thrown their hats into the ring for the highest office in the land --  but there's likely more to come. On Monday night, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke delivered a campaign-style speech at a rally on the border across the street from Trump's event in El Paso. While O'Rourke's night had all the hallmarks and advance work of a 2020 event, no special announcements were made.

O'Rourke isn't the only pol still pondering a 2020 run. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former Veep Joe Biden, and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) are still biding their time, to name a few.  But just how much longer can they wait? TL;DR: TBD.

  • There's no historic standard: "Over time, the official launch dates of candidates who won the Democratic or Republican nominations don't seem to show a clear pattern. [Jimmy] Carter announced in December 1974, nearly 700 days before the 1976 election. For 1980, 1988 and 1992, the winners all announced less than 400 days from the election, but from 1996 onward the announcements came earlier. Almost all eventual nominees for both parties made official starts in the spring and early summer, between 500 and 650 days before that first Tuesday in November," NPR's Ally Mutnick reported in 2015
  • No one cares:  “There’s a narrative built up by the pundit class,” Nate Lerner, a founder of the Draft Beto PAC, told the Dallas Morning News's Todd Gilman. “No one’s going to remember or care a year from now when Beto announced. ... The number of voters who have picked a horse is incredibly small.”
  • And with so many others fighting for the same oxygen at the moment, why the rush?:  "I don't think waiting really hurts your profile with early primary state voters or party activists. They're still in the preliminary stages of assessing the field and the first televised debates, when many start to form more definitive opinions, aren't until the summer," GOP strategist Kevin Madden told Power Up. 
  • Slow down: "This is my first election in 25 plus years where I haven't known who I was gonna be for several years before the primary. I know some of the candidates, I don't know some of them and there are some I find very intriguing. But I dont see any big rush and I think a lot of people in New Hampshire are in the same category," Terry Shumaker, Bill Clinton's New Hampshire campaign co-chairman and former U.S. ambassador to Trinidad, told Power Up.
  • Bonus: "If you’re well known and have a long history -- like Vice President Biden -- it provides less time for you to have a target painted on your back," Schumaker added. 

But, stating the obvious, jumping late into a crowded field is a double-edged sword, especially when momentum can be integral to elevating a movement above the fray and waiting so long present problems operationally with regards to organizing and fundraising (depending on name recognition.) 

  • Timing: "He's no longer the scrappy, truth-telling, unifying underdog,” Carter Eskew, a top strategist for Al Gore in 2000, wrote in The Post of O'Rourke. “Sure, O'Rourke was exciting three months ago. He gave Democrats hope that they could beat the oleaginous Ted Cruz and plant the blue flag in Texas. But preseason is over. Beto, time to get your head into a whole new game.”
  • Organizing: "Organizationally, the risk is getting behind in the staff primary where operatives with experience will go elsewhere if they believe a candidate is being indecisive," Madden added. "The bigger worry is losing good staff who want to see you run, but need to know a candidate is 110 percent ready with their decision, instead of using this time to talk themselves into it.  You can't talk yourself into running for president."

One candidate/spoiler for Democrats is already making waves. At a CNN town hall last night, the former Starbucks CEO said he'd release his taxes, didn't promise to withdraw from the race (if he actually enters it) if it looked like he was helping Trump get reelected and said he opposed Medicare-for-all.

The Investigations

TRUMP CAMPAIGN STAFFERS AND A RUSSIAN WALK INTO A CIGAR BAR ... : An Aug. 2, 2016 encounter between then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates and a Russian political operative named Konstantin Kilimnik at a Manhattan cigar bar “has emerged in recent days as a potential fulcrum in special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation.”

My colleagues Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger report that it was at this meeting that prosecutors think Manafort and Kilimnik, who prosecutors allege has ties to Russian intelligence, “may have exchanged key information relevant to Russia and Trump’s presidential bid.”

“The encounter goes ‘very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating,’ prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told a federal judge in a sealed hearing last week,” per Helderman and Hamburger.

  • Key topic of discussion: “One subject the men discussed was a proposed resolution to the conflict over Ukraine, an issue of great interest to the Russian government, according to a partially redacted transcript of the Feb. 4 hearing. During the hearing, the judge also appeared to allude to another possible interaction at the Havana Room gathering: a handoff by Manafort of internal polling data from Trump’s presidential campaign to his Russian associate,” my colleagues report.
  • Big picture: "The new details provide a rare hint at what Mueller is examining in the final stretch of his nearly 21-month-old investigation — and underscore his deep interest in the Grand Havana Room gathering, which ended with the three men leaving through separate doors, as Judge Amy Berman Jackson noted."

Meanwhile, “No factual evidence of collusion”: NBC News’s Ken Dilanian broke the news that the Senate Intelligence Committee “is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.”

  • “There is no factual evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia,” Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told NBC.
  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Intelligence member, disputed Burr’s characterization: "I'm not going to get into any conclusions I have," he said, before adding "there's never been a campaign in American history ... that people affiliated with the campaign had as many ties with Russia as the Trump campaign did."
  • Caveat: “The series of contacts between Trump's associates, his campaign officials, his children and various Russians suggest a campaign willing to accept help from a foreign adversary, the Democrats say,” per Dilanian.
  • Key quote: "We were never going to find a contract signed in blood saying, 'Hey Vlad, we're going to collude,'" one Democratic aide told NBC.

Maybe order in? Burr also vented at longtime Trump fixer Michael Cohen, whose picture circulated on Twitter out having dinner with friends on Sunday at L'Avenue in Manhattan shortly after cancelling an appearance before his committee due to health issues.

  • “Any good will that might have existed in the committee with Michael Cohen is now gone,” reports my colleague Karoun Demirjian.
  • “He was having a wild night Saturday night out in New York with five buddies. Didn’t seem to have any physical limitations, and he was out with his wife last night,” Burr noted, adding that “the way he’s positioning himself, not coming to the committee, we may have to help him go to prison.”

 

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