A gang of about 20 of moderate senators is desperately trying to find some compromise that will end the government shutdown as soon as possible. The idea they are kicking around is to fund the government through Feb. 8 and get Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to promise to hold a vote on a stand-alone immigration bill before that. However, many Democrats are afraid that even if McConnell keeps his word and holds a vote, and even if the immigration bill passes, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) won't bring it up for a vote in the House. That is precisely what happened in 2013. And even if the immigration bill does come up for a vote in the House, the House Freedom Caucus could kill it and we will be right back where we started on Feb. 8. Finally, even if the bill passes Congress, Donald Trump could veto it and at this point no Democrat would believe a Trump promise to sign it.
These issues are why many Democrats, especially those running for president already, want to package immigration reform and the budget in the same bill, so the House Freedom Caucus doesn't have the option of voting "yes" on the budget and "no" on immigration. Meanwhile, Republicans are skeptical of packaging the two issues in the same bill, precisely because they want the option of voting "yes" on one and "no" on the other. Hence the current impasse.
This is obviously a situation in which the self-proclaimed greatest dealmaker of all time could be meeting with Democrats and Republicans and making great deals, but he is basically missing in action. Reportedly, Donald Trump had a deal in place with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and on very favorable terms to the Republicans, but then the President backtracked. At this point, the members of Congress have begun to accept that they are better off figuring things out themselves. "I just don't think it helps for him to be involved at all," said Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Meanwhile, there is no question that the shutdown represents a massive failure on the part of the President. At least, there is no question in the mind of the man who, during the last shutdown in 2013, said this: "A shutdown falls on the President's lack of leadership. He can't even control his party and get people together in a room. A shutdown means the President is weak." The speaker, of course, was Donald Trump, who was (naturally) sitting for an interview with Fox News at the time.
On Saturday, McConnell scheduled a vote for 1:00 a.m. on Monday, in an obvious effort to hold the Democrats' feet to the fire. That vote has been pushed to noon today, in order to give more time to negotiate. Early indications are that McConnell's promise to do something about DACA has won back one member of his caucus—Flake—but that he hasn't gone far enough to win back the other three Republicans he lost, or enough Democrats to overcome a filibuster. The time has clearly come to get Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) involved, and to get some commitments from him. Failing that, the noontime vote is likely to fail. (V & Z)
No, not that one. He is not proposing nuking North Korea (at least, not today). The other one. He is proposing nuking the Senate Democrats by calling on Mitch McConnell to abolish the filibuster and then approve a budget. Immediately after he brought up the subject, the #2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin (IL) said doing so would be the end of the Senate as it was originally conceived. Durbin said what makes the Senate special is its respect for the minority, although the repeated use of the budget reconciliation procedure to pass major legislation (like the tax bill) with no votes from the minority party hardly shows any respect. Durbin also complained about the meeting he and other senators had with Trump in which they made a deal, only to have Trump repudiate it hours later. Durbin is a bit more elegant than the #1 Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), so he did not compare Trump to any desserts.
This is, of course, yet another example of the President being willing to put short-term gain ahead of long-term pain. If Mitch McConnell was unwilling to abolish the filibuster to achieve the Obamacare repeal, and was similarly unwilling to do so in order to overhaul the tax code, he is never going to do it in order to kill DACA, especially since DACA is something that many Republicans would like to save. The Majority Leader would need the mother of all victories before he would even consider killing the filibuster, not a fairly minor win that much of the base will have forgotten by November. Unlike Trump, McConnell understands that one day the Democrats will regain control of the Senate, and that if the filibuster dies, it's never coming back to life. (V & Z)
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was supposed to be a power player in the administration, particularly on trade, but Donald Trump has since lost faith in him. In particular, the Secretary has been making trade deals with China that Trump doesn't like one bit. In August, Ross negotiated a deal with China on steel, but Trump killed it. Ross also made a deal with China to allow U.S. beef to be imported into China in exchange for China getting the right to sell cooked chicken in the U.S. Sweet and sour sauce was not included. Trump found the deal to be ridiculous. Reportedly, Ross has also developed a bad habit of falling asleep in meetings, which infuriates the President. De facto, Ross has been demoted and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is now the boss on trade issues.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke isn't in much better shape. Zinke's sin was exempting Florida from the administration's plan to lease coastal waters to oil companies for drilling. Zinke did this on his own, without telling Trump—or anyone else. Such an arbitrary (politically motivated) decision violates Interior Dept. policies on where drilling may take place, and opens the administration to lawsuits for acting capriciously. Also, Florida may have some of the best oil sites, so taking Florida off the table not only looks brazenly political, but also threatens Trump's energy strategy. Zinke will probably survive, but his influence will be greatly reduced going forward. (V)
Paul Ryan certainly knows which side his bread is buttered on. And in case he had a case of temporary amnesia, he got a half-million-dollar reminder just days after helping pass the GOP tax bill. The windfall donation to his political coffers came courtesy the Koch brothers, who were undoubtedly delighted at the much larger windfall they got courtesy of Ryan's political maneuvering. He also got $100,000 each from half a dozen other donors who benefited from the tax bill.
The Speaker has given mixed signals about his plans for remaining in Congress, now that he's achieved the thing he cared most about. If he does run for reelection, he's drawn a pretty intriguing Democratic opponent in union iron worker and army veteran Randy Bryce. Bryce will undoubtedly hit Ryan with this, over and over. Presumably, if the writing is on the wall—even faintly—the Speaker would throw in the towel. But if not, well, he's in at least a little bit of danger of getting Eric Cantored. (Z)
One of the hot issues in the immigration battle is the current law that allows immigrants to sponsor family members overseas so they can join them in the U.S. once they have become citizens. Not only is the practice controversial, but even what to call it depends on who is doing the calling. Democrats call this "family reunification" and see it as a good thing because it brings families together. Republicans call it "chain migration" and see it as a bad thing because it brings more immigrants to the U.S. The words used are important because they can frame the issue and sway public opinion.
Jose Vargas, CEO of Define America, a group that focuses on immigration coverage in the media, has called for news organizations to stop using dehumanizing terms like "illegal immigrant," "anchor baby," and "amnesty." This has set off battles in media organizations about how to report the news. The AP has largely complied and stopped using these terms, but other organizations, such as the Washington Post, haven't. Pretty soon these organizations are going to have to adopt policies about "shitholes," something they previously were able to delicately avoid. (V)
FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok were both, very briefly, a part of Robert Mueller's investigative team. They were also in the habit of having frank conversations about politics in the months leading up to the 2016 election. Some of those frank thoughts were about Donald Trump, such that Congressional Republicans have now demanded and received hundreds of archived messages sent between the pair. This is the second such collection of Strzok texts to be turned over to Congress.
On the whole, the messages do not portray a bias against Trump as much as they do a general disdain for both candidates, since there are plenty of Clinton-critical messages included in the trove. In that way, Page and Strzok were on much the same page as the majority of the American public. And even if their disdain for Trump was greater than that for Clinton, they weren't involved with Mueller's investigation long enough to have much of an impact, one way or another. Nonetheless, this news is going to become a big talking point among the right wing media for weeks and weeks. (Z)
The government shutdown is nominally about the budget and the dreamers, but is really about the midterm elections. In fact, everything that happens in Congress this year is about the midterms. The current conventional wisdom is that there will be blue wave in November. However, Jeff Greenfield at Politico advises caution before swallowing this story whole. He starts out giving all the reasons why there will be a blue wave:
However, Greenfield then makes the point that the polls showed that Hillary Clinton was going to win in 2016. She did win the popular vote by 2.9 million, but lost the Electoral College. He observes that national polls are a crude estimator of what is going to happen, but other factors are also important, including these:
In short, November is a long time away and there could be unknown unknowns that pop up next to the known unknowns. That said, it is worth observing that Greenfield's piece has a "playing devil's advocate" feel to it. The pro-Democrat things listed in group one are all things that are already true. The pro-Republican things listed in group two are largely maybes, some of them very longshot maybes. (V)
From time to time, it has been clear that Donald Trump's tweets serve to undermine his administration's efforts to curb immigration, ban Muslims, kill DACA, and so forth. Now, Buzzfeed has put a much finer point on it, collecting all the tweets that found their way into court rulings, almost invariably to the detriment of the The Donald.
The case of transgender soldiers—whose ban from the military was announced unexpectedly via Twitter on a Wednesday morning—is illustrative. Here are the three tweets in question:
After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
....Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
....victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
Trump's decision has been stayed by three different judges, and all of them referenced these tweets in their ruling. For example, the Maryland judge who wrote, "A capricious, arbitrary, and unqualified tweet of new policy does not trump the methodical and systematic review by military stakeholders qualified to understand the ramifications of policy changes." In other words, it's not just the content of the tweets that matters (though that is important), it's also the tone and the timing.
Trump clearly intends to keep pursuing policies that are of dubious constitutionality. He also intends to keep tweeting about those policies. Which means that spending days or weeks or months on a legal filing, and then getting cut off at the knees by the President, is just a fact of life in the Justice Dept. these days. (Z)