President Trump delivered his State of the Union address in the chamber of the House of Representatives last night. I didn’t watch it. Neither did most of you, I gather.
Playbook: “There was definitely a weird vibe. It seemed a tad bit emptier than usual. Just two Democrats sat on the aisle to greet the president. Democrats chatted during parts of the speech. They barely stood, even when the president rattled off statistics about the growing economy that would’ve, in other years, had both sides on their feet.”
“The depleted House Republican minority was on its feet frequently, chanting and cheering, hooting and hollering months after their 40-seat loss. They were especially inspired when the president said there could not be ‘ridiculous, partisan investigations’ into his administration, perhaps forgetting that they investigated Barack Obama in ways that could be described in similar words.”
Politico: “President Donald Trump urged bipartisanship during his State of the Union address Tuesday. Then he promptly called for Democrats to help him build a border wall, enact a new abortion ban and preemptively end the House’s investigations. Needless to say, it did not go over well.”
John Harris: “President Trump’s State of the Union address, as it unfolded, was a dizzying and even disorienting experience, a cascade of rhetorical passages that seemed to contradict each other every few moments.”
“Appeals for unity and bipartisanship jostled with ideological and cultural scab-picking. Theatrics used by all modern presidents to swell the heart or moisten the eye — We are joined in the gallery tonight by… — were followed by the honking boasts of a MAGA rally.”
“At first blush this all may have seemed like incoherence, as though the speech was a composite of recommendations from warring factions, every zig offset by a whiplashing zag. But taken as a whole, the address revealed a clear strategic purpose — one designed to revive and strengthen the ideological connection between the Trump of 2019 with the Trump who first began his astonishingly effective takeover of the Republican Party four years ago.”
“Mr Trump’s reported meeting with Moscow officials in 1995 and the newly-unearthed footage does not show any clear wrongdoing on the part of the president. It does, however, refute the notion that he had zero dealings in Russia before assuming the White House in 2016 — a frequent claim made by Mr Trump and his inner circle.”
BuzzFeed News published a cache of internal Trump Organization documents that “lay bare the secret negotiations” to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, long after Michael Cohen claimed the deal had been abandoned.
“The documents, many of which have been exclusively obtained by BuzzFeed News, reveal that — despite Trump’s claim that the development was never more than a passing notion — the effort to get the tower built was long-running, detail-oriented and directly entwined with the ups and downs of his campaign.”
“As Trump went from rally to rally, vociferously denying any dealings in Russia, his representatives, Michael Cohen and his associate Felix Sater, worked with Trump Organization lawyers and even Ivanka Trump to push forward negotiations to build a 100-story edifice just miles from the Kremlin. The fixers believed they needed Putin’s support to pull off the lucrative deal, and they planned to use Trump’s public praise for him to help secure it. At the same time, they plotted to persuade Putin to openly declare his support for Trump’s candidacy.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) remained in power “but is having a difficult time finding allies, begging his Cabinet members to give him the chance to prove he was not the person pictured in a racist photo that surfaced Friday,” CNN reports.
According to one source, “the governor specifically said that if he resigns, he would be resigning as a ‘racist for life,’ and that the only way he can clear his name is to stay in office and convince people that he is not in that photo and that the photo does not represent who he is.”
Richmond Times Dispatch: “Though Northam has lost the support of virtually his entire party, he appears to have bought himself more time to try to clear his name.”
“The investment firm founded by the chairman of Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, Tom Barrack, developed a plan to profit off its connections to the incoming administration and foreign dignitaries,” according to a confidential memo obtained by ProPublica.
From the memo: “The key is to strategically cultivate domestic and international relations while avoiding any appearance of lobbying.”
“Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Democrat whose near miss Senate bid last yearcatapulted him to national fame, said on Tuesday that he would decide by the end of February whether to run for president in 2020,” the New York Times reports.
“Unlike many prospective rivals — who have either declared their intentions or are taking more traditional steps toward a run, like building campaigns-in-waiting and assembling early-state teams — Mr. O’Rourke has done little formal preparation for a bid. Instead, he has driven around the country, alone, interacting with strangers and publishing journal entries online about his travels.”
“Federal prosecutors in New York have requested interviews in recent weeks with executives at the Trump Organization, signaling a growing potential threat to President Trump and those in his orbit from criminal investigations by the Manhattan US Attorney’s office,” CNN reports.
“Trump and his legal team have long harbored concerns that investigations by New York federal prosecutors — which could last throughout his presidency — may ultimately pose more danger to him, his family and his allies than the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller… Prosecutors’ recent interest in executives at Trump’s family company may intensify those fears.”
“Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), a frequent critic of President Trump who said he could not support him during the 2016 cycle, is at risk of a significant primary challenge in 2020,” The Hill reports. “A Nebraska Republican official told The Hill there are Republicans interested in running for Sasse’s seat, while a senior Republican aide predicted that Sasse will see a primary challenge.”
Meanwhile, Politico reports that Texas Senator John Cornyn is preparing for a tough race: “Determined not to get caught off guard by shifting demographics and fired-up Democrats, Cornyn is revving up his reelection campaign earlier than ever after O’Rourke’s near upset of Sen. Ted Cruz. Cornyn has already stockpiled more campaign cash than any other senator: $5.8 million. He’s filling high-level campaign jobs.”
“And crucially, Cornyn secured early endorsements from Cruz and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, two of the most prominent conservatives in the state, in a show of force to prevent a primary challenge. … Millions of new voters have flocked to the state in recent years, and reliably Republican areas in the suburbs outside Dallas and Houston — where Cornyn has racked up big margins in past elections — have shifted hard toward Democrats.”
Politico: “The new House Democratic majority is widely expected to test one of Donald Trump’s ultimate red lines by demanding the president’s personal tax returns — and the Trump administration has been gearing up for months to fight back hard. Trump’s Treasury Department is readying plans to drag the expected Democratic request for Trump’s past tax filings, which he has closely guarded, into a quagmire of arcane legal arguments.
“At the same time, officials plan to publicly cast the request as an overtly partisan exercise. The two-pronged plan was developed by a handful of top political appointees and lawyers inside the department — with the ultimate goal of keeping the president’s past returns private, according to four people familiar with the administration’s approach.”
New York Times: “As president he tried to intimidate some of the nation’s strongest allies, including Canada, Mexico, Britain, France and Germany, in his initial trade talks. He demanded political loyalty from Republicans in Congress, and drove several who bucked him from office, notably Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake. But as his presidency enters its third year, a less convenient truth is emerging: Few outside the Republican Party are afraid of him, and even that intimidation may be changing after the government shutdown.”
“One of the clearest signals came last week when Republicans, backing an amendment offered by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, opposed the president’s call for withdrawal of United States military forces from Syria and Afghanistan as part of a Middle East policy bill. Only three Republicans voted against it.”
President Trump “is expected to tap Treasury Department official David Malpass as the U.S. pick to lead the World Bank, a clear sign the administration wants to rein in the international financial institution,” Politico reports.
“The U.S. has historically been allowed to choose the head of the World Bank, although that dynamic has more recently faced pushback from other nations. Nominating someone who has been so openly critical of the bank could intensify that resistance.”
“House Republican lawmakers are being encouraged by their party’s leadership to play up gruesome murders, rapes, and other crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in the United States,” according to The Intercept.
“In a newsletter sent on Friday, House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) provided the caucus and staff with a messaging update that compiled immigrant crimes by date and congressional district. The newsletter is used by the GOP caucus to provide talking points and messaging guidance.”
“President Trump announced that he will nominate David Bernhardt, a veteran lobbyist who has helped orchestrate the administration’s push to expand oil and gas drilling as the Interior Department’s number-two official, to serve as the next secretary,” the Washington Post reports.
“If confirmed, Bernhardt, a 49-year old Colorado native known for his unrelenting work habits, would be well positioned to roll back even more of the Obama-era conservation policies he has worked to unravel since joining Interior a year and-a-half ago. He has helmed the department as acting secretary since Jan. 2, when Ryan Zinke resigned amid multiple ethics probes.”
“For public consumption, President Trump planned to use his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to appeal for bipartisan unity. But at a private lunch for television anchors earlier in the day he offered searing assessments of a host of Democrats,” the New York Timesreports.
“Mr. Trump dismissed former Vice President Joe Biden as ‘dumb,’ called Senator Chuck Schumer of New York a ‘nasty son of a bitch’ and mocked Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia for ‘choking like a dog’ at a news conference where he tried to explain a racist yearbook photo.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned that there could be a “war” among Republicans if President Trump declared a national emergency to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall, The Hill reports.
Said Graham: “It seems to me that he’s gonna have to go it alone, but there could be a war within the Republican Party over the wall.”
That said, Graham added that he would “stand with” Trump if he declares a national emergency to construct the U.S.-Mexico border wall and urged his Republican colleagues to “get behind the president” if he goes down that path.
“Federal prosecutors in recent weeks have been interviewing witnesses about the flow of foreign money to three powerful law and lobbying firms that Paul Manafort recruited seven years ago to help improve the image of the Russia-aligned president of Ukraine,” the New York Timesreports.
“The previously unreported interviews about the flow of the money are among the latest developments in the investigation of key figures who worked at the three firms — Mercury Public Affairs, the Podesta Group and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.”
“The case has drawn intense interest in Washington in part because of the prominence of the three main figures, each of whom has played high-profile roles in politics and lobbying.”