President Trump “has been briefed on a plan that would use the Army Corps of Engineers and a portion of $13.9 billion of Army Corps funding to build 315 miles of barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border,” NBC News reports.
“The money was set aside to fund projects all over the country including storm-damaged areas of Puerto Rico through fiscal year 2020 [as well as hurricane and flood and fire damaged areas of Florida, Texas and California], but the checks have not been written yet and, under an emergency declaration, the president could take the money from these civil works projects and use it to build the border wall.”
Jonathan Bernstein says this will doom Trump’s reelection effort: “But taking away disaster-relief money? We have no idea what kind of electoral effect that would have because no president has ever done anything that stupid. (Okay, I can think of one possible equivalent, President Jimmy Carter’s ill-fated grain embargo before the 1980 election. It’s hard to say how much that hurt him, but emulating Carter’s famous mistakes really isn’t something to be proud of.) Let’s just say that if there’s anything voters might remember that long and actually punish above and beyond their normal voting behavior it would be taking away tangible benefits from them in a time of need.”
Playbook: “Washington has been through tons of these legislative fights in the last 10 years. This might be the only time where there has actually been zero progress in three weeks. Like, none. Not one inch or scintilla of movement. At this point, it appears as if the president is likely to use some sort of executive authority — declaring a national emergency as the most likely scenario — to try to build the wall.”
“If Trump uses the emergency declaration, Congress will move immediately to open government — and will be able to do so relatively quickly. For example, if Trump does this today, Congress could, feasibly, move a short stopgap immediately. People close to Trump tell us he will sign a government funding deal at that point, but then again, they’ve said a lot in this process that has turned out to be complete bunk.”
“In the days after President Trump fired James Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests,” the New York Times reports.
“The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.”
“The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.”
“House Democrats excoriated Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday following a classified briefing about the Trump administration’s decision to ease economic sanctions on three companies linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska,” Politico reports. Said Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “One of the worst classified briefings we’ve received from the Trump administration. The secretary barely testified.”
“As special counsel Robert Mueller wraps up his Russia probe, investigators have focused on conflicting public statements by President Trump and his team that could be seen as an effort to influence witnesses and obstruct justice,” CNN reports.
“The line of questioning adds to indications that Mueller views false or misleading statements to the press or to the public as obstruction of justice… Mueller hasn’t addressed the issue publicly, but prosecutors have dropped hints that they view public statements as possibly key in influencing witnesses.”
“Inside the West Wing, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has been lobbying for restraint,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Declaring a national emergency, an option Mr. Trump has been leaning toward, shouldn’t be used to try to win a messaging war against Democrats opposed to a wall, Mr. Kushner said in a recent Oval Office meeting.”
“Instead, Mr. Kushner argued an emergency should be invoked only if it creates a clear path for the White House to build the wall, the key issue in the standoff between Mr. Trump and congressional Democrats that has led to the shutdown.”
Ron Brownstein: “Politically, the showdown over the shutdown demonstrates how much more Trump prioritizes energizing and mobilizing his passionate base, often with messages that appeal to anxiety about demographic and cultural change, over broadening his support toward anything that approaches a majority of the country. It sends the same message about his priorities in executing his office. Trump makes no pretense of governing as president of the entire nation. Instead, he governs as the champion of his slice of America against all the forces in the country his supporters dislike or distrust—an instinct he displayed again this week with his latest threats to cut off disaster-relief funding for California.”
“For a president to consistently steer his governing agenda and political messaging toward a demonstrable minority of the country is, to put it mildly, a novel strategy.”
Molly Ball: “A new year has dawned in Washington, and this is what it looks like: a partial government shutdown in its third week; a new Congress sworn in only to sit on its hands; an emboldened House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refusing to cede an inch; and an angry President Trump abandoning negotiations to take to television and make the case for crisis measures.”
“But step back from the sordid details, and you could hardly get a more accurate tableau of America’s new political reality: a nonfunctioning federal government whose leaders, each insisting the stakes are too high to budge, have retreated to their corners. At the center of the drama are the two towering figures whose clash will define the next biennium: Trump and Pelosi, the yang and yin of a divided America, two powerful leaders with their credibility on the line, both convinced they hold the winning hand.”
“Neither can afford to lose…. Trump, true to his tendencies, acts on impulse, prevaricates, shreds norms and takes unilateral actions of questionable legality. He stumbles into authoritarianism, not out of calculation but out of machismo. Meanwhile, the Speaker, true to her tendencies, unites her wayward party behind a carefully chosen, logical course of action, but her best-laid plans may still be no match for an extraordinary moment. Ultimately, it is fitting that Trump, avatar of chaos, should face off against Pelosi, master of rules. And there’s no end in sight for the clash of these two titanic figures.”
A new University of Maryland survey finds only 4 in 10 Americans favor building a border wall.
“Fewer than half our respondents were persuaded by the argument that a wall would prevent potential threats from coming into the country and would strengthen U.S. borders. Nearly two-thirds, including 4 in 10 Republicans, were persuaded by the counterargument: Because migrants can always find alternative routes to crossing the border, there are better methods for deterring illegal entry.”
“Members of President Trump’s campaign and transition team had more than 100 contacts with Russian-linked operatives,” USA Today reports.
“The milestone illustrates the deep ties between members of Trump’s circle and the Kremlin. The findings, tracked by the Center for American Progress and its Moscow Project, come amid reports that special counsel Robert Mueller is nearing the conclusion of the two-year investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by the president.”
Associated Press: “The federal government has started surveying land along the border in Texas and announced plans to start construction next month. Rather than surrender their land, some property owners are digging in, vowing to reject buyout offers and preparing to fight the administration in court.”
“One law firm involved in a foreign government-owned company’s challenge of a mysterious grand jury subpoena related to the Robert Mueller investigation is Alston & Bird, CNN has learned, a firm that has previously represented Russian interests, including working for a Russian oligarch and a contractor of the Russian government.”
“The identity of the foreign government and the company has been a closely held secret, and after several setbacks in court, the company may be forced to give the special counsel’s office information or face a steep financial penalty.”
Nate Silver sees five key groups of Democratic voters that matter in the 2020 Democratic primary:
- Party Loyalists
- The Left
- Millennials and Friends
- Black voters
- Hispanic voters (sometimes in combination with Asian voters)
“You’ll notice that these groups aren’t mutually exclusive… So rather than thinking about ‘lanes,’ we’re taking a more pluralistic approach with the Democrats. Candidates don’t have to pick any one group; rather, their goal is to build a majority coalition from voters in (at least) three out of the five groups. There are a lot of ways to do this: If you’re choosing any three from among the five groups, there are 10 possible combinations to pick from,2 and all of them plausibly form winning coalitions.”
“The other difference from how we handled the Republicans four years ago is that, with the exception of The Left, none of these groups are explicitly ideological in nature.”
“The furloughing of hundreds of Food and Drug Administration inspectors has sharply reduced inspections of the nation’s food supply — one of many repercussions of the partial government shutdown that make Americans potentially less safe,” the Washington Post reports.
“The agency, which oversees 80 percent of the food supply, has suspended all routine inspections of domestic food-processing facilities, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in an interview. He said he’s working on a plan to bring back inspectors as early as next week to resume inspections of high-risk facilities, which handle foods such as soft cheese or seafood, or have a history of problems.”
A new Public Policy Polling survey in North Carolina finds the state is likely to once again be a key battleground for president next year. Voters in the state are closely divided on President Trump but split narrowly against him, with 46% approving of the job he’s doing to 50% who disapprove.
“In match ups against 6 possible Democratic opponents next year, Trump consistently polls in the 44-46% range against all of them. The Democrats poll at anywhere from 45% to 49% with their individual levels of support running roughly in line with their levels of name recognition.”
“President Trump’s televised Oval Office address on immigration Tuesday drew a big audience. The response from Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer drew a slightly bigger audience, at least according to preliminary figures,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“The quarter hour (9-9:15 p.m. ET) containing the president’s speech drew a combined 28.1 household rating in metered markets on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CNN, Fox News and NBC. The following 15 minutes, including analysis and the Pelosi-Schumer rebuttal, averaged 29.3 across those same networks, a bump of about 4 percent.”