Alas, in typical Trumpian fashion, and much like the rest of the past two years, the final decision to sign the spending bill AND ultimately declare a national emergency was rife with indecision, angry lawmakers and oodles of drama.
And it almost didn't happen, according to an inside account of how Trump decided to sign the spending deal with only $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new fences.
- “We thought he was good to go all morning, and then suddenly it’s like everything is off the rails,” said one senior Republican aide, according to my colleagues Robert Costa, Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim.
- Key detail: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was on the phone with Trump three times daily in a bid to persuade him to sign the deal. McConnell promised he'd get others to support an emergency declaration if Trump signed.
- “Trump refused to sign the bill Thursday until the White House Counsel’s Office convinced him it would not preclude him from declaring a national emergency, two senior administration officials said,” according to my colleagues.
Remember: The path to today was no walk in the park, either. Republicans in Congress, led by former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), spent pretty much all of 2018 successfully persuading Trump to sign gigantic spending bills to fund the government while promising to fight for the president's beloved wall the next time. And the next.
But they never did. And after losing the House majority in November, the president's party no longer had the leverage to force the debate. That left an angry Trump taking what he thought was his last, best stand to get his border barrier at the end of December. Instead, we got a historic 34-day shutdown and the threat of second one.
Here's how we got to where we are now:
1. After much back-and-forth from January to March 2018 on allowing young undocumented immigrants to stay in the country in exchange for wall funding, the idea falls apart. Congress passes a $1.3 trillion dollar deal funding the government through September. DACA is tabled.
- Yield: “President Trump, hours after threatening to veto a $1.3 trillion spending bill and throwing the capital into turmoil, signed it into law on Friday, yielding to advisers and Republican leaders who urged him against manufacturing a government shutdown crisis,” the New York Times's Michael Shear and Julie Davis reported.
2. Trump avoids another shutdown in early September by funding some portions of the government — including the Homeland Security Department — through Dec. 7 and other portions through September 2019.
- Trump considered forcing a shutdown then to pressure Congress topprovide $5 billion for his wall. “Trump has said he thinks it would be good politics,” Ryan and other GOP leaders convinced Trump to push the issue past midterm elections, Erica Werner reported at the time.
3. Midterms 2018: A blue wave causes Republicans to lose their House majority. Business continues as usual. Well, sort of.
4. In early December, Congress, again, extends the deadline for funding the government for another two weeks.
- “The new shutdown deadline does not mean lawmakers and President Trump are any closer to a solution on the major issue dividing them: funding for Trump’s border wall,” The Post's Erica Werner reported.
5. Trump forces a shutdown: The longest shutdown in history sidelines 800,000 federal employees and countless federal contractors without a paycheck for 35 days and cost the U.S. economy $11 billion dollars, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
6. The government reopens, without money for the wall. On Jan. 25, Trump signed a bill to reopen the government through Feb. 15.
6. National emergency declaration: “President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday.
On The Hill
The backlash to an emergency declaration was immediate. Statements expressing displeasure from Democrats and Republicans filled inboxes and littered Twitter feeds.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.): “Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall.”
- Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): “As I’ve said many times, I have concerns about the precedent that could be set with the use of emergency action to re-appropriate funds. Accordingly, I will study the President’s declaration closely. The Constitution grants Congress the authority to appropriate federal dollars, so I’m sure such action will be litigated in the courts. "
- Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine): “I don’t believe that the National Emergencies Act contemplated a president repurposing billions of dollars outside the normal appropriations process,” Collins told reporters. “I also believe it will be challenged in court and is of dubious constitutionality.”
What's next? House Democrats said they will likely challenge an emergency declaration, passing a resolution of disapproval that, under a law passed by Congress, would then have to be taken up by the Senate within 18 days.
- Step one: That's bad news for Republicans, who as you can see are divided on the issue and could approve such a measure.
- Step two: Trump could then veto it.
- Step three: If that happens, there are likely to be lawsuits, lots of them.
From the Courts
“Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a House Judiciary Committee member, said his discussions with House lawyers had centered around a 1952 Supreme Court ruling, Youngstown Sheet and Tube v. Sawyer, in which the court rejected President Harry Truman’s attempt to seize and operate the nation’s steel mills to avert a strike,” Rachael Bade reports.
- The key quote: “They’re about to make the steel seizure decision the most famous Supreme Court case in Washington for the next couple months,” Raskin said about House lawyers. “The Supreme Court said a red light from Congress is a red light from Congress, and you can’t run a red.”
My colleagues Fred Barbash, Ellen Nakashima, and Josh Dawsey report that “[t]he Justice Department has told the White House that the president’s action is likely to be blocked in the courts, and the White House counsel’s office warned Trump against declaring a national emergency, calling it a 'high litigation risk,' according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.”
There are workarounds a national emergency, such as reprogramming money already provided by Congress for other purposes. But Trump is concerned that it's not enough:
- No weakness: "White House lawyers have told Trump he could reprogram money without calling an emergency, according to the person familiar with the discussions . . . But Trump is concerned there is not enough money in those pots to show meaningful progress on the wall and has been determined to declare an emergency, partially for fear of looking weak, the person familiar with the matter said,” according to my colleagues.
- Comparisons to the travel ban: “If Trump moves large chunks of money around that were appropriated for other purposes, that will provide a constitutional issue missing in the travel ban case, whether he declares an emergency,” the trio reports.
- Nope: “Democrats in Congress will say Trump is encroaching on spending powers delegated exclusively to Congress by Article I of the Constitution. Such a claim would leave the courts caught between branches of government in a separation of powers case in which Congress — or at least Democrats in Congress — will be demanding 'deference,' not the president,” they report.
How Trump might do it: The New York Times's Charlie Savage explains that an emergency declaration would likely allow Trump to tap two existing authorities.
- "One such law, for example, permits the secretary of defense, in an emergency, to begin military construction projects 'not otherwise authorized by law that are necessary to support such use of the armed forces.'"
- "Another permits the Army to halt civil works projects during a declared emergency, using the freed-up resources to help construct 'authorized civil works, military construction and civil defense projects that are essential to the national defense.'"
ANDREW MCCABE'S BOOK TOUR COMMENCES: The former acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, started his media tour this week, kicking it off with none other than the prized "60 Minutes” interview. McCabe explained to CBS News's Scott Pelley that he authorized an investigation into Trump's ties with Russia out of concern that he'd be fired.
- “I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that, were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace,” McCabe told Pelley.
The full interview will air on Sunday and comes as McCabe is promoting his memoir to be released next week, “The Threat: How the F.B.I. Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.” McCabe was fired by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the eve of his retirement in March of last year.
- " . . . Pelley said . . . that Mr. McCabe had confirmed a New York Times report that the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, had suggested wearing a wire in meetings with Mr. Trump and that Justice Department officials had discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office,” per the Times's Adam Goldman and Matthew Haag.
- “There were meetings at the Justice Department in which it was discussed whether the vice president and a majority of the cabinet could be brought together to remove the president of the United States under the 25th Amendment,” Pelley said. “These were the eight days from [former FBI director Jim] Comey’s firing to the point that Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel. And the highest levels of American law enforcement were trying to figure out what to do with the president.”
The Post’s Greg Miller reviewed McCabe’s book in its entirety. Some of the more lurid details revealed relate to his account of working for Sessions:
- “The FBI was better off when ‘you all only hired Irishmen,’ Sessions said in one diatribe about the bureau’s workforce. ‘They were drunks but they could be trusted. Not like all those new people with nose rings and tattoos — who knows what they’re doing?,’” Miller reports.
- Cringeworthy: “McCabe’s disdain for Trump is rivaled only by his contempt for Sessions. He questions the former attorney general’s mental faculties, saying that he had ‘trouble focusing, particularly when topics of conversation strayed from a small number of issues.’ Logs on the electronic tablets used to deliver the President’s Daily Brief to Sessions came back with no indication he had ever punched in the passcode. The attorney general’s views on race and religion are described as reprehensible.”
Miller writes the book “isn’t the comprehensive account McCabe was presumably capable of delivering” but fleshes out various encounters and Trump’s proclivities:
- “Inevitably, the book includes disturbing new detail about Trump’s subservience to Russian President Vladimir Putin. During an Oval Office briefing in July 2017, Trump refused to believe U.S. intelligence reports that North Korea had test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile — a test that Kim Jong Un had called a Fourth of July ‘gift’ to ‘the arrogant Americans.’ Trump dismissed the missile launch as a 'hoax,' McCabe writes. ‘He thought that North Korea did not have the capability to launch such missiles. He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so,’” Miller writes.
We can probably expect more tweets on this topic on Sunday:
Outside the Beltway
DEBATE NIGHTS IN AMERICA: The Democratic National Committee announced the first two presidential primary debates of 2020. There will be a total of 12 debates throughout the primary season. NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo will host the first debate this coming June and CNN will host the second debate in July. Locations and dates are TBD.
What has finally been settled: format.
- “Each debate will feature randomized lineups drawn from a maximum of 20 qualifying candidates, according to the DNC. A total of 12 presidential primary debates are planned during the 2020 cycle,” CNN’s David Wright reports.
- If more than 20 Democratic candidates qualify, the DNC will narrow the field based on whether candidates “may qualify for the debate by registering at 1% or more support in three separate polls (either national polls or polls of the electorate in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and/or Nevada) publicly released between January 1, 2019, and 14 days prior to the date of the debate.”
- Another criteria: If contenders have received campaign contributions “from at least 65,000 unique donors, and a minimum of 200 unique donors per state in at least 20 US states,” according to Wright.
In the Media
Food for thought: Ruth Bader Ginsburg isn't looking to retire yet, but is another supreme court justice ready to go? By The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin.
Bernie Bait: Amazon Will Pay a Whopping $0 in Federal Taxes on $11.2 Billion Profits. By Forbes's Laura Stampler.
Speaking of: Bernie Sanders Called Ilhan Omar to Offer His Support Amid Anti-Semitism Controversy. By the Daily Beast's Gideon Resnick.
Swamp-date: Former Trump Officials Are Supposed to Avoid Lobbying. Except 33 Haven't. By ProPublica's Derek Kravitz.
#MeToo News: Prosecutors Are Moving to Indict R. Kelly, After the Discovery of Another Videotape. By The New Yorker's Jim DeRogatis.
Remaking history: The Soviet army was driven from Afghanistan 30 years ago. Putin’s Russia is repackaging that defeat as a patriotic victory. By The Post's Amie Ferris Rotman.
An amazing snap from one of The Post's photographers:
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First Lady Melania Trump @flotus listens during a meeting with President @realdonaldtrump the President of the Republic of Colombia Ivan Duque Marquez and Mrs. Maria Ruiz Sandoval in the Oval Office at the White House on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. @washpostphoto @washingtonpost #trump #potus #whitehouse #flotus #firstlady #melaniatrump
And on the end of HQ2 in New York: