On The Hill
GROUNDHOG DAY: There are two more weeks left to negotiate a border security agreement before the government could shut down for the second time. But the major players on both sides are refusing to give an inch, greatly increasing the chances of failure to craft a game-changing immigration deal that will satisfy both President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
- “I don’t think they’re going to make a deal,” Trump told reporters yesterday in the Oval Office, uninterested in at least even pretending the bipartisan group of House and Senate negotiators will successfully resolve the messy border wall standoff he started. “I see what’s happening. They’re all saying, ‘Oh, let’s do this but we’re not giving one dime to the wall.’ That’s okay.”
- “But if they’re not going to give money for the wall, it’s not going to work. And if it’s not going to work, then the politicians are really wasting a lot of time,” Trump added.
And late on Thursday, in his clearest terms yet, Trump vowed he didn’t need Congress to build the wall, suggesting he was ready to declare a national emergency if his signature campaign pledge didn’t get funded.
- “I’ll continue to build the wall, and we’ll get the wall finished,” Trump said in an interview with the New York Times’s Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman. “Now whether I declare a national emergency — that you’ll see.”
- “There’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation,” the speaker said flatly in a news conference Thursday, report our colleagues Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim and John Wagner.
- Semantics: The speaker said “enhanced fencing” could have a role in a comprehensive border security solution, adding that “if the president wants to call that a wall, he can call it a wall.”
Walled in? Pelosi’s left flank, who she’s done a skillful job of handling so far, is going a step further. In a “Dear Colleague” letter first obtained by The Daily Beast’s Gideon Resnick and Sam Brodey, Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) urge their colleagues to *reduce* spending for the Department of Homeland Security in any funding bill that would be part of an immigration deal.
- “We have seen rampant spending on detention facilities for young children. The deal reached by the Conference Committee should not allocate any additional funding to this department or to the ICE and CBP agencies. The upcoming FY2020 budget process will be a critical opportunity to take up conversations about reforms to the agency. In the meantime, not another dollar,” the letter reads.
Their red lines: Both sides seem pretty entrenched at this point, although anything can happen over the next 15 days. But in the Times interview, Trump signaled he would have no problem declaring a national emergency if he doesn’t get what he wants from Congress.
- “‘I think Nancy Pelosi is hurting our country very badly by doing what she’s doing and, ultimately, I think I’ve set the table very nicely,’ Mr. Trump said. He made no mention of closing the government again, a move that backfired on him, but instead suggested he plans to declare a national emergency to build the wall. ‘I’ve set the table,’ he said. ‘I’ve set the stage for doing what I’m going to do.’
That decision would not be without danger. Republicans on the Hill worry using executive action would have lasting consequences that could set a precedent for future “emergencies” declared by Democratic presidents on everything from Medicare to gun control to climate change.
- “There’s a growing chorus of Hill Republicans, even those on the far-right flank who are pessimistic about a national emergency for fear that a future Democratic president could use on a wide array of issues,”a senior Capitol Hill aide told us.
- “That will be a problem if Trump does that,”a second senior GOP aide said. “They will face major head winds for sure. That is just not an advisable path. I think Republicans are just generally less trusting of these kinds of executive decisions . . . but it’s also very likely to get tied up in the court right away and that just poisons the well for everything else. If that happens, you can kiss any type of legislative achievements goodbye for the rest of the year.”
By the numbers:
- None of Trump’s intelligence chiefs who testified about global threats before Congress this week mentioned a security crisis at the southern border.
- Trump’s National Drug Control Strategy,which was released yesterday, does not explicitly call for the construction of a physical wall to curb illicit drug trafficking across the border.
- Reminder: Most Americans are opposed to the wall and are specifically opposed to Trump using his emergency powers to get one. “One-third of Americans (34 percent) would support the president declaring a national emergency to use military funding to build a border wall. Nearly twice as many (64 percent) would disapprove of this move,” according to a poll from Monmouth University released Monday.
- Nonetheless, a GOP Hill staffer texted us: “Immigration polls through the roof for us.”
At the White House
Some other highlights from Baker and Haberman’s interview with Trump:
- Mueller probe: He said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had told him — or his attorneys, anyway — that he was not the “target” of Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between Trump campaign aides and Russia.
- Stone and WikiLeaks: Trump said he never spoke with longtime friend Roger Stone, who pleaded not guilty after being indicted by Mueller’s team last week, about stolen Democratic emails released by WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. “‘No, I didn’t. I never did,'” he said of speaking with Mr. Stone on the subject. Did he ever instruct anyone to get in touch with Mr. Stone about WikiLeaks? ‘Never did,'” the president told the Times.
- Trump Tower in Moscow:Trump said his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was “wrong” when he stated discussions about building a Trump Tower in Moscow were ongoing through November 2016, adding “that deal was not important.”
- ‘Fake’ intelligence: Trump claimed the findings of his intelligence chiefs don’t actually contradict his foreign policy, summon them on Thursday to his office. ” . . . Mr. Trump said the intelligence chiefs told him their presentation was misinterpreted. ‘They said, ‘Sir, our testimony was totally mischaracterized,'” Mr. Trump said. ‘I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And when you read their testimony and you read their statements, it was mischaracterized by the media.'”
Fact check on the last point: “A representative for the CIA declined to comment. A representative for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to a request for comment. None of the agencies whose leaders testified have issued retractions or amendments to their written or spoken statements,” The Post’s Shane Harris reports of the saga.
A sigh of relief for Donald Trump Jr.: CNN’s Pamela Brown, Manu Raju, and Jeremy Herb broke the story yesterday that Don Jr. has been waiting for. Senate investigators obtained new information about a key question regarding the meetings that Don Jr. organized in order to obtain Russia dirt on Hillary Clinton.
- “Senate investigators have obtained new information showing Donald Trump Jr.’s mysterious phone calls ahead of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting were not with his father, three sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN,”per Brown, Raju and Herb. “Records provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee show the calls were between Trump Jr. and two of his business associates, the sources said, and appear to contradict Democrats’ long-held suspicions that the blocked number was from then-candidate Donald Trump.
Former New Jersey governor and Trump ally Chris Christie explained to The Post’s Robert Costa at our Post live event last night that Trump’s disparaging statements about the intelligence community stem from his distrust of them surrounding the 2016 election. “I think he believes the problem is with the people deeply inside those intelligence communities who have an ax to grind with him,” Christie said during their interview.
Their discussion is worth a watch.
NORTH KOREA’S NUCLEAR PLEDGE: North Korea has promised “the dismantlement and destruction” of all of their uranium and plutonium enrichment facilities, Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, said in a speech Thursday at Stanford University.
- Concrete details: “Biegun’s comments — his first public speech in five months as [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo’s special envoy — offered a rare insight into the administration’s approach to North Korea that officials had previously declined to provide. They appeared to be part of a coordinated roll-out to signal that substantive negotiations with Pyongyang were underway ahead of a second summit between Trump and Kim in February,” per Bloomberg’s Nick Wadhams.
- One liner from Beigun: “We are not going to invade North Korea.”
- Fact check: “While the president continues to say that North Korea’s lack of missile and nuclear tests for more than a year were key achievements, leaked intelligence reporters and analysis of satellite imagery suggests he has used the time to stockpile more nuclear material and missiles,” Wadhams writes.
- Remember: Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testified Tuesday it’s unlikely the U.S. would ever achieve “total denuclearization” and North Korea is “unlikely to give up all of its WMD stockpiles, delivery systems, and production capabilities.”
- Sharp insight from Joel Witt, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center and former State Department official working on arms control and nonproliferation issues: “Keeping the North Korea challenge in perspective is hard to do, particularly with a president who has a talent for shooting himself in the foot when it comes to making exaggerated claims about what he is accomplishing with North Korea. While the U.S. intelligence community’s technical collection capabilities are unrivaled, the [intelligence community] isn’t always right when it comes to predicting what North Korea will do.”
- More from Witt: “Senior intelligence officials are willing to admit that to their credit. Some have told me that they never thought North Korea would even consider giving up its nuclear weapons. Now, as a result of events of the past year, they have had doubts.”
Meanwhile, NBC News’s Courtney Kube, Josh Lederman, and Carol. E Lee learned of “a draft Pentagon report [warning] that without continued pressure, ISIS could regain territory in six to 12 months, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the draft.” The memo is expected to be released ‘early next week.'”
- Key: “The draft says ISIS is intent on reconstituting a physical caliphate and that with ungoverned spaces in Syria and no military pressure, the terror group could retake land in a matter of months, according to the officials familiar with the report. The report covers the three months from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2018. President Donald Trump announced in mid-December that the U.S. military would be leaving Syria,” the trio reports.
Related: Led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a majority of GOP senators on Thursday rebuked Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria by “voting to declare that the Islamic State’s presence and activity in both countries continue to pose a serious threat to the United States,” per The Post’s Karoun Demirjian.
- A striking rebuttal from McConnell: “I believe the threats remain. ISIS and al-Qaeda have yet to be defeated, and American national security interests require continued commitment to our mission there,” McConnell said Thursday, before the 68-to-23 vote.
- But: “Nearly every Senate Democrat expected to run for president in 2020 voted against the amendment,” reports Karoun.
Policy and programming and potential new arms race alert: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to announce the United States is withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, treaty today, per the Associated Press.
2020 WATCH: Trump also told the Times he’s running for reelection next year because “I love this job,” Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) closer to announcing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) apologizes, and David Leonhardt makes a great point about Howard Schultz coverage:
- Trump on 2020: “‘I lost massive amounts of money doing this job,” he said. “This is not the money. This one of the great losers of all time . . .,’ Trump said. Still, he dismissed any speculation that he might not run for re-election next year. ‘I love this job,’ he said. And he said he did not think he would face a challenger for the Republican presidential nomination, even though several candidates are mulling a race. ‘I don’t see it . . . I have great support in the party.”
- Trump expressed admiration for Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who threw her hat into the 2020 ring last weekend: “I would say the best opening so far would be Kamala Harris,” he said, pronouncing it ‘Kameela.’ “I would say in terms of the opening act, I would say, would be her.” He added, “A better crowd, better crowd, better enthusiasm.”
- As for Warren … not so much: “Some of the others were very flat,” he added. “I do think Elizabeth Warren’s been hurt very badly with the Pocahontas trap,” he added, using a favorite slur to refer to the senator’s effort to prove she has Native American heritage. “I think she’s been hurt badly. I may be wrong, but I think that was a big part of her credibility and now all of a sudden it’s gone.”
- Per The Intercept’s Ryan Grim: Warren “will make her presidential campaign official with a major speech and announcement on February 9, according to two sources with knowledge of her plan. The announcement will convert her current exploratory phase into a full-blown bid for the presidency.”
- Also, Grim reports that Warren has apologized for her DNA test: “Warren has been in touch with Cherokee Nation leadership, apologizing for furthering confusion over issues of tribal sovereignty and citizenship and for any harm her announcement caused, two sources with knowledge of her overture said.”
- “Senator Warren has reached out to us and has apologized to the tribe,” Cherokee Nation’s executive director of communications Julie Hubbard told The Intercept. “We are encouraged by this dialogue and understanding that being a Cherokee Nation tribal citizen is rooted in centuries of culture and laws not through DNA tests. We are encouraged by her action and hope that the slurs and mockery of tribal citizens and Indian history and heritage will now come to an end.”
- He’s running: “Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) on Thursday began calling members of Congress informing them he is running for president and is quietly making overtures to members for support, three congressional sources told The Hill,” The Hill’s Scott Wong and Mike Lillis report.
- The Times’s David Leonhardt’s advice that’s important for political journalists to consider: “If you’ve already written (or read!) a piece about Howard Schultz and you’re tempted to do another, ask yourself: Have I written about each of the non-billionaires planning to run? Kirsten Gillibrand? Julián Castro? Pete Buttigieg? Kamala Harris? Elizabeth Warren? …”
In the Media
Not The Onion: Trump Reportedly Kept Red Button on His Desk and Made Others Nervous When He Pressed It: What It Really Did. By People Magazine’s Sam Gillette.
Of course: ‘Whistleblower’ in White House security clearance. office gets suspended. By NBC News’s Laura Strickler and Peter Alexander.
More blood on Assad’s hands: Syria Liable in Killing off Journalist Marie Colvin, Court Rules. By the Times’s Anne Barnard.
Weekend read:A Black Legacy, Wrapped Up in Fur. By the Times’s Jasmine Sanders.