Opinion writer

* It looks like President Trump is ready to pull the trigger:

The White House has begun laying the groundwork for a declaration of national emergency to build President Trump’s border wall, including searching for unused money in the Army Corps of Engineers budget, two people with knowledge of the preparations said Thursday.

Such a declaration would be certain to set off a firestorm of opposition and would undoubtedly be challenged in court. But it could also be a way out of the current impasse, allowing Trump to cite action on his long-promised wall even without Congress granting his funding demands, and potentially paving the way for the government to reopen. The shutdown is now in its third week.

Trump has urged the Army Corps to determine how fast contracts could be signed and whether construction could begin within 45 days, according to one of these people, an official familiar with the deliberations who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe them.

The administration is specifically eyeing a disaster spending bill passed by Congress last year that includes $13.9 billion in funding that has been allocated but not actually spent for a variety of projects, according to the second person, a congressional aide who also requested anonymity.

The legal and political blowback will be ferocious, and it will certainly be interesting to see how Republicans respond to the intense pressure they’ll be under to do something about it. -- gs

* Philip Rucker and Felicia Sonmez report on the photo op of the day:

After abruptly walking out of budget negotiations with Democrats to end the government shutdown, President Trump on Thursday took his case for building a wall to the U.S.-Mexico border, where he claims illegal crossings have created a humanitarian and security crisis...

At a U.S. Border Patrol station, where he attended a roundtable on immigration and border security, Trump continued to press the case for his border wall, which he maintained would be paid for by Mexico “many, many times over” through a new trade deal that has yet to be ratified by Congress.

“I didn’t mean, ‘Please write me a check,’” Trump said of his oft-made claim that Mexico would pay for the wall.

I mean c’mon, nobody was dumb enough to believe what I clearly said a hundred times, right? Except my voters, obviously.

* Sarah Murray and Katelyn Polantz have more details on that Russian collusion story:

Special counsel Robert Mueller sought information directly last year from one of Donald Trump's campaign pollsters who is also a former business associate of Paul Manafort's.

Mueller’s team met with pollster Tony Fabrizio in February 2018, an interview that has not been previously reported and takes on new significance after Manafort’s attorneys revealed Tuesday that Mueller’s team is still interested in how Manafort shared polling data with his Russian intelligence-linked colleague. ...

Fabrizio’s involvement with Mueller is intriguing because he’s one of the few people in Manafort’s orbit with knowledge of the inner-workings of the Trump campaign as well as Manafort’s Eastern European connections.

Perhaps they’ll argue that it isn’t collusion unless all the collusion was conducted in Russian, and since they were speaking English, the Trump campaign is in the clear.

* The news broke today that Michael Cohen will be testifying publicly before Congress next month. That should be fun.

* Jeff Hauser lays out how Democrats can use Congress' long-forgotten oversight powers against Trump.

* Francis Wilkinson argues that Nancy Pelosi needs to publicly spotlight that Mitch McConnell is the real obstacle to reopening the government, as he could force Trump’s hand if he wanted to.

* Jeffrey Young and Jonathan Cohn examine how Democratic state and local leaders are plugging the holes in Obamacare.

* Jason Sattler argues that Trump’s border wall isn’t about security, it’s about stoking racial fears and resentments.

* Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley report that the kind of steel slats Trump wants for his wall can be sawed through.

* Judith Solomon explains just how disastrous Medicaid work requirements are in practice.

* Sam Stein, Lachlan Markay and Betsy Woodruff report that the White House appears to have intervened in a criminal case against a top Republican donor.

* Helaine Olen argues that Elizabeth Warren has a powerful critique of capitalism as it’s operating right now, and that this is key to -- wait for it -- her likability.

* And finally, Beto O’Rourke livestreamed his teeth cleaning today, because we’re in hell.