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Political Wire logo Trump Misinformation Escalates
Trump ‘Inclined’ to Declare National Emergency on Border
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A Big Moment for Global Democracy
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Vulnerable Republicans Seek Distance from Trump

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Epic Power Struggle Begins
      •  Trump Threatens to Declare State of Emergency
      •  How Will the Shutdown End?
      •  Shutdown's Effects Are Becoming More Pronounced
      •  Democrats Unveil Top Priority Bill
      •  Mueller Grand Jury Extended
      •  Powell Says He Won't Resign; Market Rallies
      •  Pat Roberts Will Not Run for Reelection

Epic Power Struggle Begins

Forget the chess match. That was yesterday. Today, we get the Fight of the Century with Donald Trump playing Joe Frazier and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) playing Muhammad Ali (or is it the other way around?). The two most powerful people in D.C., neither of whom likes or respects the other one, met yesterday for the first round. It surely won't be the last one. Nobody budged and nobody took a hit, so call it a 0-0 draw.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who was also present, later said that Trump is prepared to keep the government partially closed for months or years if he doesn't get the money for his wall. Pelosi said that Trump gained new understanding of the Democrats' position during the multihour meeting (English translation: "What part of 'no' do you not understand?").

At this point, no one knows how this will end. Among other possibilities, we see:

  • Trump sees polls giving him the blame, gets a fig leaf instead of a wall, and caves
  • Senate Republicans pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) into passing a bill with no wall
  • The two sides make a real deal: Trump gets the wall and the dreamers get citizenship
  • Jan. 20, 2021, rolls around and a new president signs the funding bill

Actually, the last one is unlikely because at the end of this fiscal year, funding for all government departments ends, and the struggle would expand to shutting down the entire government. If that were to happen, the pressure would be enormous for something to be done. (V)

Trump Threatens to Declare State of Emergency

Late Friday afternoon, in an apparent acknowledgment of the weakness of his position, Donald Trump returned to a threat that he's made previously, but never followed through on: That he might just declare a state of emergency, and order a wall built on that basis.

If this was merely an idle threat, as it has been on the previous occasions Trump made it, it's not going to work. That is because Nancy Pelosi & Co. know that if he's not bluffing, it would be a hugely risky move that could blow up in the President's face in a variety of ways. To start, there's the obvious PR issue that he would look like a dictator. That might please the base, but would hurt him badly with everyone else. On top of that, Trump would be stretching the authority that is granted to him to its very limits. If anything was likely to cause the two houses of Congress to join together to say: "No," this would pretty much be it. Surely they would realize that this would open the door for any president to override any Congress at any time they wished by simply declaring their pet project to be a "national emergency." In particular, Mitch McConnell would have nightmares if someone pointed out to him the potential for the next Democratic president to declare that so many people are dying for lack of healthcare that it's a national emergency, and that Medicare-for-All will be implemented immediately in response.

There is also the small matter of funding. If Trump were to get his $5 billion by declaring a national emergency, he would have to take the money from the Dept. of Defense budget, which would mean canceling one or more existing projects. Taking money away from the military is the kind of thing that might even raise the hackles of the base, since the military is most certainly not Mexico (a.k.a. the folks who were supposed to pay for the wall). Beyond that, the members of Congress whose constituents lose jobs/income because a $1 billion military contract just disappeared won't be happy. And those constituents will be none-too-happy, either, and would be likely to register their disapproval at their polling place in November of 2020.

The odds are good that Trump was just blowing off steam, and he won't try this. On the other hand, he loves dramatic gestures, flexing his muscles, and doing things his predecessors never would have done. So, you never know. (Z)

How Will the Shutdown End?

Politico asked 11 top political strategists, pundits, and observers how they think the government shutdown will end. Here are their responses:

  • Anita Dunn: Trump won't get any money but will declare victory anyway
  • Alfonso Aguilar: Trump will promise some relief for dreamers in return for some wall money
  • Paul Winfree: Both sides will kick the can down the road: Open the government and talk later
  • Neera Tanden: Trump's approval will nosedive, so he will sign a bill and falsely claim it funds the wall
  • Frank Luntz: I don't know, but I would like to see a wall in return for legalizing the dreamers
  • Michael Steele: There will be no wall but the language will be changed to allow Trump to claim a win
  • Rick Wilson: Trump will simply capitulate when the pressure on him gets too great
  • Donna Brazile: Senate Republicans will finally wake up and pass a funding bill with no wall money
  • David Gergen: A 2-week continuing resolution will give a team of negotiators the time to make a deal
  • Sophia Nelson: Republicans in Congress will eventually lose patience with Trump and pass a funding bill
  • Adam Jentleson: The shutdown will end when Fox News tells Trump to end it

If you don't like any of these scenarios, make up your own. Your guess is as good as anyone else's at this point. We have never before had an irresistible force meet an immovable object in this way. (V)

Shutdown's Effects Are Becoming More Pronounced

The partial shutdown of the federal government has officially entered its third week. Naturally, that means that its impact is being felt more broadly and more keenly across the country, particularly since it's no longer the holiday season. Here's a rundown of some of the effects:

  • National Parks: Closing down the national parks during a government shutdown is somewhat optional, since they are semi-functional even without staffing. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama shuttered them during their respective shutdowns, but Donald Trump's underlings persuaded him that would not be a good look, particularly during the holidays. Two-plus weeks in, however, the parks are getting pretty filthy, with both litter and human waste accumulating rapidly. In addition, three people have died in accidents. That's actually par for the course for the national parks, though, where several hundred people die each year, so it's probably not correct to blame the deaths on the shutdown.

  • The IRS: The IRS is down to about 10% of its usual staffing. For those who are under audit, this is good news, because all audits have been delayed. For those who have questions about their tax returns or anything else, it's bad news, since nobody's answering the phones right now. As everyone knows, April 15 is tax day, which means "tax season" starts right around February 1. If the government reopens before February 1, tax season should proceed fairly normally. If the shutdown lingers into February or March, however, it will be a disaster for the agency, and for anyone who is depending on their income tax refund.

  • Home Loans: The federal government is the nation's largest guarantor of home loans, due to the USDA, FHA, and other agencies and programs. All government-backed loans are on hold right now. And, as anyone who has bought or sold a house knows, the timing of the whole transaction is somewhat delicate. So, there are buyers and sellers, not to mention their agents, who could lose out entirely on purchases or sales.

  • Small Businesses: The federal government is also a major guarantor of small business loans. Those, of course, are on hold, too. And again, timing is often crucial here. If someone was planning to lease a retail or manufacturing space, their would-be landlord isn't going to keep that space open, not earning rent, because a loan did not come though. In addition, there are a sizable number of small businesses that rely on government contracts, and who are currently going unpaid, or are unable to place bids.

  • Native Americans: In view of the United States' treatment of the Native Americans in past generations, the federal government now provides a sizable range of services to residents of reservations, including health care and, in some cases, daily meals. Most reservations are beginning to run short on emergency funds, and if the shutdown goes on, things may get dire.

  • Food Stamps: Speaking of food, the programs that provide food to people in need—most obviously SNAP—are also tapping into their emergency reserves. They too will run out of money in a few weeks or so.

  • The TSA: TSA screeners—the folks who check you at the airport to make sure you don't have bombs in your shoes—are among the employees who are deemed "essential," and so are required to work even if they are not being paid. However, they can still call in sick, and an unusually large number of them have started doing so. A TSA spokesman said that the sick-out won't affect travelers' safety or wait times. Let's see...these people are being overworked, asked to cover for missing colleagues, and aren't being paid, and yet they are just as effective as they would be if those things weren't the case? Uh, huh.

  • PandaCam: Government-run museums and attractions are closed, which includes the National Zoo. The zoo actually had enough funds to keep running for 11 days after the shutdown took effect, but was forced to close down on Tuesday. It will remain closed until the government is funded, which meant that on Wednesday the popular PandaCam was turned off. Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and Bei Bei will have each other as their only audience for a while.

Not everyone is suffering due to the shutdown, though. Since the Justice Dept. is understaffed, they have requested (and received) extensions on nearly all pending cases. That includes Donald Trump's emoluments suit, which will not move forward until the shutdown is over. On top of that, the National Zoo and the Smithsonian may be closed, but funds have miraculously been found to keep the Old Post Office tower in Washington open for visitors and tourists. This will minimize the loss of income for privately-held concerns in the neighborhood that depend on tourist business. Like, say, Trump International Hotel, which is in the same building. (Z)

Democrats Unveil Top Priority Bill

Democrats have introduced their top priority bill (which has the symbolic name of H.R. 1), even though they know it won't even be brought up for a vote in the Senate, let alone become law. It is a hodgepodge of items related to strengthening democracy and government transparency. The many provisions can be grouped into three major categories:

  • Enfranchising voters: The bill would ensure that all eligible voters are able to vote. Specific items are online voter registration, same-day registration on Election Day, automatic registration for voters who don't do it themselves, and automatic re-enfranchisement of felons who have served their time. It would ban purging voters from the rolls because they haven't voted recently. It would require states to issue an absentee ballot to anyone requesting one and would require them to mail out the ballots 45 days before the election. Early voting would be required for 15 consecutive days leading up to Election Day. The bill would reinstate the requirement that states with a shady history of using voting laws to disenfranchise some voters get preclearance from the Justice Dept. before changing their election laws. In addition, the bill would end gerrymandering by requiring that congressional districts be drawn up by independent commissions.

  • Campaign finance: The goal here is to reduce the influence of money in politics. The bill would require all political ad expenditures to be listed in a public database and inaugural committees would come under strict oversight. This item is on the agenda because Donald Trump's inaugural committee raised over $100 million, some of it from foreign sources, but spent far less than that, making it look like a giant slush fund designed to allow wealthy donors to buy influence. Almost all political action committees would be required to disclose donors who gave more than $10,000. In an effort to promote small-dollar donations, donations to House candidates up to $200 would be matched at a 6 to 1 ratio by the government. Finally, in a real break with the past and to encourage people who are not millionaires or billionaires to run for public office, the bill would allow campaign funds to be spent on child and elder care, rent, mortgage payments, and health insurance costs.

  • Ethics: The bill requires anyone announcing a presidential run to disclose his or her past 10 years of tax returns. The Office of Government Ethics would be strengthened. A code of ethics would be applied to the Supreme Court. Senior government officials would be banned from lobbying for 2 years. Corporations and members of Congress would also be subject to new ethics restrictions.

The bill also includes a severability clause, so if any part of it is later found to be unconstitutional, the rest would not be affected. Again, the chance of this bill becoming law before Jan. 20, 2021 at noon is only slightly higher than that of Donald Trump and Mike Pence simultaneously resigning in order to allow Nancy Pelosi to become president, and then immediately hitting the road to star in a traveling revival of "The Producers."

However, the proposal is likely to put the Republicans in an uncomfortable position. Democrats will attack Mitch McConnell mercilessly for not bringing it up for a vote, saying that he supports disenfranchising voters, encouraging dark money, and opposing ethical behavior. It is also likely the 2020 Democratic platform will promise that a Democratic president will sign the bill if it makes it to the White House. If you think of the bill not as a potential law but an actual publicity stunt, it will probably be very successful. (V)

Mueller Grand Jury Extended

Typically, federal grand juries are impaneled for 18 months. The one that Robert Mueller summoned as part of his ongoing investigation is about to reach that mark, which would generally mean that their service was over. Not so in this case, however, as they were extended on Friday, by as much as six months.

Donald Trump gets a lot of bad news these days, and this is definitely in that category. First, it makes clear that the investigation is still ongoing. And second, if Mueller (or anyone else) decides to ignore Justice Dept. guidelines, and to try to indict the President, it's this grand jury that will have to do the job. The Watergate grand jury was similarly extended, and actually tried to indict Richard Nixon several times all by themselves during their extra period of service, but were stopped by special prosecutor Leon Jaworski. Maybe this grand jury will try it, too. It is also relevant that even if special counsel Robert Mueller is fired, the grand jury will continue to function and can still issue indictments. Only the judge who empaneled the grand jury can dismiss it. (Z)

Powell Says He Won't Resign; Market Rallies

As we have noted several times, Donald Trump is not happy with Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve Chairman that he himself appointed. Powell has overseen several slight increases in the prime rate, and Trump—since he will not turn a critical eye on his own policies, like trade wars with China—blames the rate increases for the poor stock market performance we've seen in the last month or so.

On Friday, Powell made clear that he doesn't care if the President is unhappy, and that he will not resign, even if asked by Trump to do so. Assuming the Chairman holds firm, that means that Trump is either stuck with him, or will have to invent "cause" for firing him. Wall Street was apparently skeptical that Trump is willing to pursue the latter course, and pleased that Powell will remain with his hand on the rudder, because the Dow Jones and other indexes shot up on the news. Undoubtedly, those gains will hold right up until the next news story that spooks them. The current pattern of giant drops followed the next day by giant spikes upward based on some tiny morsel of news has led to an extremely volatile market. In the past, volatile markets have been precursors to serious bear markets, but the current situation of an economy that is doing just fine combined with an unstable political situation is unique, so past performance may not be a guide to future performance. (Z)

Pat Roberts Will Not Run for Reelection

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) announced yesterday that he will not run for reelection in 2020. The 82-year-old Republican faced a bruising primary last time and probably would again. He just finished working on a farm bill that was signed into law late last year and doesn't really have the fire in the belly to fight another nasty campaign just to be in the Senate for another six years and accomplish nothing.

When asked if he had a preference for his successor, Roberts said that former senator Bob Dole (who is now 95) would clear the field. In reality, numerous Kansas Republicans have long been preparing for this moment. Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS) is probably running. Former representative Kevin Yoder is thinking about it. So is the former Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who would be the Democrats' dream candidate. Outgoing Gov. Jeff Colyer (R-KS) needs a new job. Most intriguing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could run, since he knows that if he wins, he will have job security for 6 years, rather than serving at the pleasure of a man who could blame him for failing to rein in Kim Jong-Un or for not accomplishing some task that Hercules would have given back as not doable. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan04 Nancy Pelosi Is Elected Speaker of the House
Jan04 The Chess Game Has Begun
Jan04 Some States Are Switching from Caucuses to Primaries
Jan04 Bernie Sanders Is in a Bit of Hot Water
Jan04 Ryan Zinke Is in a Lot of Hot Water
Jan04 Jerrold Nadler Introduces a Bill to Protect Mueller
Jan04 Brad Sherman Introduces a Bill to Impeach Trump
Jan03 No Progress Ending the Shutdown
Jan03 Trump Goes Easy on Pelosi So Far
Jan03 Trump Attacks Romney: "I Won Big and He Didn't"
Jan03 Five House Chairs Will Drive Trump Nuts
Jan03 Pittenger Won't Run in NC-09 Primary If There Is One
Jan03 Beto vs. Bernie: It's On
Jan03 Thursday Q&A
Jan02 Russians Arrest Alleged U.S. Spy
Jan02 Kim Jong-Un Issues Threats
Jan02 Trump Shoots Down Democrats' Funding Proposal
Jan02 Trump Slams McChrystal
Jan02 Romney Slams Trump
Jan02 The Year Ahead, Part I: Races to Watch
Jan02 The Year Ahead, Part II: Predictions
Jan01 Warren Is In
Jan01 Mattis Is Out
Jan01 House Democrats Have Their Plan in Place
Jan01 Federal Employees Sue
Jan01 Trump's 2018 in Review: The Highs and Lows
Jan01 Trump's 2018 in Review: By the Numbers
Jan01 Trump's 2018 in Review: Twitter
Dec31 Trump Can't Find a Consistent Way to Blame the Democrats for the Shutdown
Dec31 McChrystal Says Trump Is Immoral
Dec31 Kelly Gives an Interview with the Los Angeles Times
Dec31 Pay No Attention to Lindsey Graham
Dec31 The Environmental Impact of the Wall
Dec31 Democrats United against Trump but Split on Everything Else
Dec31 Where Will Trump Be Tonight?
Dec31 Monday Q&A
Dec30 Russians Pressured Manafort while He Led Trump Campaign
Dec30 Trump Keeps Tweeting; That's How the White House Staff Likes It
Dec30 This Is What Fake News Looks Like
Dec30 And This Is What Corruption Looks Like
Dec30 How Will History Remember 2018?
Dec30 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Jerry Brown
Dec29 Cell Phone Data Puts Cohen in Prague Despite His Claim He Has Never Been There
Dec29 No Movement on Shutdown, Despite Trump's Pretending Otherwise
Dec29 Trump to Freeze Federal Employees' Pay
Dec29 North Carolina Election Board Is Disbanded before Certifying the NC-09 Election
Dec29 House Republicans Conclude Investigation into FBI's Handling of Clinton E-mails
Dec29 Democrats Will Have $129 Million Extra to Spend on Staff in January
Dec29 Putin Seems to Be Favoring the GRU over the FSB
Dec28 Congress Reconvenes and Nothing Happens