NOT THE WALL: President Trump and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó are clashing over granting temporary protected status to 70,000 Venezuelans living in the United States illegally. Guaidó's top diplomats in Washington are directly pushing the administration to protect Venezuelans who have fled the chaos in the collapsed country.
This is the first public difference between the Trump administration and the interim president of Venezuela as the White House has made ousting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro a centerpiece of its foreign policy agenda.
Guaidó's top diplomat in the U.S., Carlos Vecchio and Francisco Marquez, a political adviser to Vecchio, have asked Vice President Pence and other U.S. officials to grant special immigration status to Venezuelans to prevent them from having to return to what Marquez described as a “country with war like indicators” and a “natural disaster.”
- “It's hugely important,” Marquez told Power Up on Monday evening of TPS. “We think we are a lot closer than we were a month ago and me, Ambassador Vecchio and President Guaidó have pushed for that directly. So we expect that to be definitely a priority. It's hard to know exactly what the timing is. But we are definitely a lot closer than we were last year.”
- “This is not a decision we think should be taken lightly,” Marquez added. “So I think that they are just considering all of the process and at least from our perspective, that makes sense and we are respectful of those processes.”
- Marquez also pointed to a letter signed by 24 senators — 23 Democrats and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — asking the administration to protect Venezuelans currently living here from being deported.
Guaidó is not alone. Inside the Trump administration, the State Department's point person on Venezuela, special envoy Eliott Abrams exchanged “sharply worded” emails with the National Security Council advocating for a temporary respite for Venezuelans, according to the Wall Street Journal's Jessica Donati and Dion Nissenbaum. Abrams, a controversial neoconservative who advocated for arming the Nicaraguan rebels during the Reagan administration, is trying to reinvent himself.
- “We have absolutely got to avoid any noncriminal deportations while we sort it out. To send some family back to [Venezuela] now would make us all laughingstocks,” Abrams wrote in a Feb. 24 email to the NSC.
- “Understood,” NSC Senior Director of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Mauricio Claver-Carone, replied. “But so would arguably sending [the] message that Maduro isn’t going anywhere and we’re in for [the] long-game. It would create [a] false sense of confidence for regime elites. Plus, it opens up inconsistencies, of which we’re going to be accused vis-a-vis other countries.”
Continued U.S. involvement in Venezuela is antithetical to Trump's “America First” agenda. The Trump administration has joined other nations in recognizing Guaidó as the country's leader, slapped sanctions on the country's state-owned oil company and flown humanitarian aid to the border.
But protecting Venezuelans living illegally in the United States seems to be a bridge too far for Trump, whose hard line on immigration is the defining characteristic of his presidency.
“I think there's no question that deporting Venezuelans back to extremely unsafe and volatile conditions would be inexcusable,” Geoff Ramsey, the assistant director at the Washington Office on Latin America, told Power Up. “But I think it's odd to have this discussion in isolation of the broader debate over TPS in the U.S.," Ramsey added before mentioning Trump's crackdown on immigration overall.
Marquez told Power Up the next phase toward regime change involves more pressure and protests in the country, along with additional sanctions from the U.S. and the European Union. But it has become increasingly clear to Venezuela watchers and human-rights activists that Maduro isn't budging anytime soon.
“The White House is really doing everything it can to provide the idea that Maduro is on the verge of collapsing and that this will all be over soon — and I just don't think we can say that with any accuracy,” Ramsey told Power Up.
- So long as Maduro is still able to export oil in exchange for hard currency to China, India and Russia, “I'm not convinced we can say with any accuracy that Maduro is on his last legs," according to Ramsey.
“I think the momentum is on our side," Marquez countered. "It’s all of your reference point — look at where we were two months ago — this has been one of the fastest turnarounds in Venezuelan history ... The regime said that Guaidó was never going to come back and he came back and is taking his message to the people.”
There has been progress: Marquez confirmed Monday the opposition has assumed control of Venezuela's three diplomatic properties in the U.S., as first reported by Reuters's Gershon Peaks.
On The Hill
TROUBLE FOR TILLIS?: North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis’s journey from writing an op-ed blistering Trump’s national emergency declaration to backing it on the Senate floor did not go unnoticed.
Buried inside the Pentagon’s list of $12.9 billion in military construction projects that it sent to Congress on Monday is more possible bad news for a senator who is expected to face a tough reelection fight in 2020. That’s because Trump wants to redirect $3.6 billion of that money to a border wall, and if the Pentagon is forced to make cuts North Carolina would be among the most affected states represented by a Republican senator.
- This might seem odd at first glance because there seems to be more than enough money to avoid any hard decisions. But AEI research fellow and defense budget guru Rick Berger tells Power Up that really isn’t the case, because the $12.9 billion includes projects the Pentagon itself says it won’t touch. (Full list available here.)
Tillis is not alone in the potential for blowback: Berger said that among red states, or those represented by Republicans, Missouri, Alaska, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and Oklahoma have the “most skin in the game.”
- Of those states, Sens. Dan Sullivan (Alaska), John Cornyn (Texas), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), David Perdue (Ga.) and Jim Inhofe (Okla.) are all also up for reelection next year and like Tillis, voted against striking down the emergency declaration.
- So far, only Perdue, like Tillis, is expected to see a tough general election opponent (some of the incumbents could see primary challengers). This could change though if Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) challenges Cornyn, as is now widely expected.
BACKFILL?: The Pentagon says it could avoid talk of any cuts if Congress agrees to backfill any lost money, but Hill Democrats are not warming up to that idea, our colleagues Paul Sonne and Erica Werner report.
- “What President Trump is doing is a slap in the face to our military that makes our border and the country less secure,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Erica and Paul. “He is planning to take funds from real, effective operational priorities and needed projects and divert them to his vanity wall.”
I was going to tweet out each of the military construction projects that are at risk of losing funding in order for President Trump to build his border wall.— Tim Kaine (@timkaine) March 18, 2019
Then I got the list.
I think you’ll see why that isn’t feasible: pic.twitter.com/VNXwbQSdgJ
At the White House
TRUMP'S COMBATIVE HISTORY WITH MUSLIMS: My colleagues Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey dissected Trump's “tepid response” to the massacre that killed 50 people in Christchurch, New Zealand that has "highlighted the president’s fraught and combative relationship with Islam and Muslims."
- Publicly: “Throughout his presidential bid and his presidency, Trump has made statements and enacted policies that many Muslim Americans and others find offensive and upsetting at best — and dangerous and Islamophobic at worst,” Ashley and Josh write.
- “In a lengthy manifesto, the admitted shooter, a white man from Australia, described Trump as 'a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose' and seemed to echo some of the U.S. president’s hard-line rhetoric on immigration, describing immigrants as 'invaders within our lands.'”
- Privately: “One former senior administration official said Trump often associated Muslims with terrorism and rehashed grim Muslim terrorist attacks, even in private. 'He thinks, and says sometimes, that Muslims are taking over Europe,' this person said.”
“This former official, as well as a second person, said they’d never heard Trump use a derogatory term for Muslims in private. But they said many of his political calculations are based on how his supporters, whom he often calls 'my people' or 'the base, will see an issue,” per Ashley and Josh.
Despite his muted reaction to the New Zealand shooting, Trump did tweet more than 50 times over the weekend. The New York Times's Annie Karni, Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman report that “Mr. Trump’s advisers have shared with him data showing that even his supporters do not like the tweet storms, and have advised him to act more “presidential” as his re-election campaign draws nearer.”
Kicker: “I can’t imagine having a father that does this on the weekends,” Meghan McCain, a host of “The View” and the daughter of the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) who the president lambasted on Twitter over the weekend, said of Trump's twitter tirades.
2020 Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren calls for abolishing the Electoral College and moving to a national popular vote: “Every vote matters” #WarrenTownHall https://t.co/pPFMVywETf pic.twitter.com/yy0J0HgAjc— CNN (@CNN) March 19, 2019
GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) owned the political airwaves on Monday night with impassioned explanations of policy positions sprinkled with biographical anecdotes during hour-long town halls on CNN and MSNBC.
Already winning the battle of ideas among her 2020 peers, Warren added even more to her robust agenda during her town hall with Jake Tapper at Jackson State University, a historically black college in Mississippi including: “getting rid of the Electoral College, removing Confederate statues, and creating a national commission to study reparations for black Americans,” the New York Times's Astead Herndon reports from Jackson.
“Every vote matters, and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College,” Warren told the crowd (to much applause), positioning the move as a way of expanding voting rights.
“Come a general election, presidential candidates don't come to places like Mississippi, they also don't come to places like California or Massachusetts, because we're not the battleground states,” Warren said.
Warren called for the creation of a commission to study reparations but did not directly state she supported payments to the descendants of slaves.
“Slavery is a stain on America & we need to address it head on. I believe it’s time to start a national, full-blown conversation about reparations. I support the bill in the House to support a congressional panel of experts so that our nation can do what’s right & begin to heal,” Warren later tweeted.
In Auburn Hills, Mich., Gillibrand detailed her support for progressive policies and expressed public regret over her record on guns and immigration when she represented a conservative district in Upstate New York.
- “On guns, I should have done more,” Gillibrand told MSNBC's Chris Hayes. “That I should have been better. I was humbled and regretted that I didn't think beyond the needs and the priorities of the people I represented because the truth is that we all need to work together to end gun violence in this country.”
- Gillibrand also pledged to prosecute drug companies for their role in creating the opioid epidemic, according to NBC's Jane Timm.
- “What we have to do is take on the drug manufacturers, who purposefully made these drugs stronger more addictive and now that we have the documents we know they did it because they wanted record sales,” Gillibrand told the group. “They should be prosecuted.”
Meanwhile, Beto O'Rourke continued his second week as an official candidate of his policy-lite but high energy presidential campaign. My colleague Jenna Johnson reports that O'Rourke has been asking voters to “to shape him into the presidential candidate they want him to be, to help him draft a vision for America.”
“As a presidential candidate, O’Rourke has heavily focused not on specifics but on two sentiments: positivity and humility,” according to Johnson.
“It’s an approach that seems to work so far: In addition to the large crowds O’Rourke has attracted, he raised $6.1 million during the first 24 hours of his campaign, a record-setting haul that narrowly tops the amount announced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and dwarfs everyone else in the 2020 Democratic field,” she writes.
“He’s just so positive — that’s what I like,” Olga Sanchez, 70, who drove from the Des Moines suburbs to Waterloo on Saturday to see O’Rourke. “He’s not saying ‘straight Democrat,’ he’s not saying ‘independent,’ he’s not saying ‘just progressive,’ and he’s not saying no to ‘Republican’ — that’s just it, he includes everyone. . . . I’m all for inclusivity.”
Donald Trump did not create hate and racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism. But what he has done is poured fuel on the fire that is raging more than I've seen in my lifetime. I will stand up against him and his hate. #GillibrandTownHall pic.twitter.com/JoBscNgT5w— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) March 19, 2019
In the Media
IN OTHER NEWS:
A real emergency declaration: 74 Nebraska cities issue emergency declarations amid historic floods that killed 4 and displaced hundreds. By CNN's Christina Maxouris.
The Deutsche Bank Connection deepens: A Mar-a-Lago Weekend and an Act of God: Trump’s History With Deutsche Bank. By The New York Times's David Enrich.
Coming up in Ukraine: Corruption Sinks a Nation and May Turn a Comedian Into President. By Bloomberg's Marc Champion and Daryna Krasnolutska.
- Startling: Runaway-slave games. Sanitized textbooks. Schools do a terrible job teaching about slavery. By The Indianapolis Star's Arika Herron.
- Devastation in Mozambique: Over 1,000 feared dead after cyclone slams into Mozambique. By The Associated Press's Andrew Meldrum.