No one budged at President Donald Trump’s closed-door meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday, so the partial government shutdown persisted through Day 12 over his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. They’ll all try again Friday.
In public, Trump renewed his dire warnings of rapists and others at the border. But when pressed in private by Democrats asking why he wouldn’t end the shutdown, he responded at one point, “I would look foolish if I did that.” A White House official, one of two people who described that exchange only on condition of anonymity, said the president had been trying to explain that it would be foolish not to pay for border security.
In one big shift, the new Congress will convene Thursday with Democrats taking majority control of the House, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said they’d quickly pass legislation to re-open the government – without funds for the border wall.
“Nothing for the wall,” Pelosi said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show set to air Thursday. “We can go through the back and forth. No. How many more times can we say no?”
But the White House has rejected the Democratic package, and Republicans who control the Senate are hesitant to take it up without Trump on board. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “total nonstarter.” Trump said ahead of his White House session with the congressional leaders that the partial shutdown will last “as long as it takes” to get the funding he wants.
“Could be a long time or could be quickly,” Trump said during lengthy public comments at a Cabinet meeting, his first public appearance of the new year. Meanwhile, the shutdown dragged through a second week, closing some parks and leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay.
Democrats said they asked Trump directly during Wednesday’s private meeting held in the Situation Room why he wouldn’t consider their package of bills. One measure would open most of the shuttered government departments at funding levels already agreed to by all sides. The other would provide temporary funding for Homeland Security, through Feb. 8, allowing talks to continue over border security.
“I said, Mr. President, Give me one good reason why you should continue your shutdown,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said afterward. “He could not give a good answer.”
Trump’s response about looking foolish was confirmed by a White House official and another person familiar with the exchange, neither of whom was authorized to describe the exchange by name. Trump had campaigned saying Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico has refused.
At another point Wednesday, Trump told Pelosi that, as a “good Catholic” she should support the wall because Vatican City has a wall, according to a congressional aide. Trump has mentioned the Vatican’s centuries-old fortifications before, including at the earlier Cabinet meeting. But Democrats have said they don’t want medieval barriers, and Pelosi has called Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border immoral.
“I remain ready and willing to work with Democrats,” Trump tweeted after the meeting. “Let’s get it done!”
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said that there’s no need to prolong the shutdown and that he was disappointed the talks did not produce a resolution. He complained that Democrats interrupted Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen as she was trying to describe a dreadful situation at the border.
Nielsen, participating in the meeting by teleconference, had data about unaccompanied minors crossing the border and a spike in illegal crossings, and she tried to make the case to the group that current funding levels won’t suffice, according to the White House.
“We were hopeful that we could get more of a negotiation,” said McCarthy.
He said the leaders plan to return to the White House Friday to continue negotiations. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox that Pelosi will be “more able to negotiate” once she is elected speaker, as expected Thursday.
The two sides have traded offers, but their talks broke down ahead of the holidays. On Wednesday, Trump also rejected his own administration’s offer to accept $2.5 billion for the wall. That proposal was made when Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials met at the start of the shutdown with Schumer, who left saying they remained far apart. On Wednesday Trump repeatedly pushed for the $5.6 billion he has demanded.
Making his case ahead of the private afternoon session, Trump said the current border is “like a sieve” and noted the tear gas “flying” overnight to deter arrivals.
“If they knew they couldn’t come through, they wouldn’t even start,” he said at the meeting, joined by Cabinet secretaries and top advisers, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
With no negotiations over the holidays, Trump complained he had been “lonely ” at the White House, having skipped his getaway to Mar-a-Lago in Florida. He claimed his only companions were the “machine gunners,” referring to security personnel, and “they don’t wave, they don’t smile.” He also criticized Pelosi for visiting Hawaii.
At the Capitol on Wednesday, Pelosi said she hoped Republicans and the White House “are hearing what we have offered” to end the shutdown.
The partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22. Funding for the wall has been the sticking point in passing essential spending bills for several government departments.
Pelosi said Tuesday that Democrats would take action to “end the Trump Shutdown” by passing the legislation Thursday to reopen government.
“Senate Republicans have already supported this legislation, and if they reject it now, they will be fully complicit in chaos and destruction of the President’s third shutdown of his term,” she said in a letter to colleagues on Tuesday. “”We are giving the Republicans the opportunity to take yes for an answer,” she wrote in a letter to colleagues.
Administration officials said Trump was in no rush for a resolution to the impasse, believing he has public opinion and his base of supporters on his side. Trump himself contended it’s the Democrats who see the shutdown fight as “an election point.”
The Democratic package to end the shutdown would include one bill to temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels – with $1.3 billion for border security, far less than Trump has said he wants for the wall – through Feb. 8 as talks would continue.
It would also include a separate measure to fund the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development and others closed by the partial shutdown. That measure would provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to Sept. 30.
Analysis: Deval Patrick revives debate over ‘electability’
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s late entry into the presidential race offers Democrats a fresh — and perhaps last — chance to reassess who they think is the strongest candidate to take on President Donald Trump.
It adds to the now months-long debate within the Democratic Party over “electability” less than three months before the first votes are cast. For a party that prides itself on diversity, the answers so far have been consistent and, to some, frustrating — a top tier dominated by white candidates, only one of whom is a woman.
But Patrick’s campaign is a reminder of the divergent paths to victory for presidential hopefuls. White candidates must prove they can win over black voters. Blacks and other minority contenders, however, must show they can build white support.
That type of multiracial coalition has eluded virtually everyone in the race except Joe Biden, who — for now — has deep support among black voters in addition to working-class whites. Those who assess that backing as soft, however, see an opening for a moderate candidate like Patrick, a black governor who made history winning in a majority-white state.
That, some strategists say, differentiates Patrick from Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, the two other major black candidates whose past electoral success has come in more diverse states and who are lagging in the presidential polls.
“Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are well-funded, high-profile black candidates, but have not been able to rise during a cycle where appeals to black voters are central to who will be the eventual winner of the primary,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. He said the election will confront what stigma still exists with white voters toward black candidates in the post-Barack Obama era.
“We can make the assumption that Patrick will be the next black candidate to face this test, but his appeal is altogether different than Booker and Harris,” Payne said. “The Patrick candidacy is an appeal to moderation and to the center-left more than a direct appeal to black voters.”
In 2008, then-Sen. Obama was the lone black candidate in the Democratic primary field and didn’t begin to gain momentum until the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, trailing Hillary Clinton and John Edwards for much of the contest. But Obama’s showing— winning an overwhelmingly white electorate — gave him momentum to convince black voters in South Carolina and across the Black Belt that he was viable.
Obama’s diverse coalition was a new blueprint in Democratic electoral mapmaking, earning him the party’s nomination and his history-making general election victory. Observers say it’s an electorate Democrats will have to replicate to win in 2020.
The trio of African Americans have taken different approaches in how they contend with the racial aspects of their candidacies.
Harris announced her candidacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and has unique status as an alumna of historically black Howard University, member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the lone black woman in the 2020 fray.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced during Black History Month. The former mayor of Newark touts his residency in an impoverished black neighborhood in the city but has also sought to cast himself as a bridge builder — pointing out his ties to a civil rights legacy that changed his family’s trajectory with intervention from progressive whites that helped him integrate his childhood neighborhood.
In a brief interview Friday, he encouraged voters to “pull the lens back on diversity.”
“We have women in this race, we have an openly gay person in this race, we have (a) biracial person in this race, African-Americans in this race,” he said. “It is an incredible moment in American history that our field is so diverse and that voters have such qualified folks to choose from.”
Patrick himself has made relatively few references to race since launching his campaign. But as he registered this week to appear on the ballot in the New Hampshire primary, he spoke of the “skepticism” he has experienced as a black man.
“He has demonstrated an ability to win over white voters in an overwhelmingly white state,” said Democratic strategist Doug Thornell. “The question is whether he has enough time, whether he can raise the money, and whether he can carve out a compelling narrative and identity that allows him to break through. That’s a lot to accomplish in two months, but it’s not crazy.”
His path would be a challenging one. Though Patrick is not a national name, he is fairly well-known in neighboring New Hampshire, where voters saw television ads for his gubernatorial campaigns.
A strong finish in the Granite State could provide momentum heading into South Carolina, disrupting the field and leaving no clear frontrunner heading into Super Tuesday, said Thornell.
“If you look at the African American candidates running, he might be the best positioned to pull that off,” Thornell said.
Patrick’s late entry is reminiscent of Gen. Wesley Clark’s 11th-hour bid in 2003. Clark was able to briefly break through after some among the electorate worried about then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s path to the nomination, or that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was too liberal.
As a prominent African American who can appeal to black and white voters, Patrick could appeal to soft Biden voters looking for an alternative to Booker or Harris, or who don’t like Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders’ progressive agenda, said Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod.
“He can create that ‘I’m more left than Biden, but not crazy like Warren/Sanders’ message,” Elrod said. “He could appeal to some of those voters who are on the fence and not satisfied with others in the field. He can say, ‘I can be your candidate.’”
— Errin Haines
White House beancounter defies Trump to tell impeachment inquiry about $400M in suspended Ukraine aid
A White House budget official defied President Trump and testified Saturday in the House impeachment inquiry about the controversial suspension of defense aid to Ukraine.
Mark Sandy, a career Office of Management and Budget official, told lawmakers that he raised questions about whether the decision by Trump acolytes to hold up $400 million in desperately needed military assistance violated laws mandating money allocated by Congress be spent, CNN reported.
The budget expert did not explain what reasons were given for the hold up in aid. He testified behind closed doors in a rare Saturday session as the impeachment investigation continues to deliver heavy blows to Trump.
Sandy acted on orders to put an initial hold on the aid in late July and the issue was later handed over to Trump political appointees.
The aid was already appropriated by Congress, meaning the White House would have had to offer a legally valid reason for withholding it.
It’s not known what explanation if any, was given for removing the suspension from Sandy’s purview.
Sandy’s testimony shone a harsh spotlight on Mick Mulvaney, who is both the OMB director and Trump’s acting chief of staff.
“Mulvaney not only has refused to testify, but actively worked to block others from complying with subpoenas,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Cal.) in a statement. “(He also) refused to provide Congress with documents relating to Trump’s suspension of Congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine.
Mulvaney admitted that Trump imposed an improper “quid pro quo” on Ukraine at a disastrous press conference although he later sought to walk back his admission. He has refused to testify to the impeachment probe.
A key contention of impeachment advocates is that Trump suspended the aid so he could use it as leverage to force Ukraine into launching bogus investigation of Trump’s Democratic rivals.
In fact, the suspension of aid shocked Ukraine officials and reportedly led them to consider announcing the corruption probes to get the cash flowing again.
By that time, in early September, the intelligence whistleblower complaint had hit the headlines, forcing the White House to reinstate the aid without getting the investigations announcement that Trump wanted.
In a statement Saturday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, called out Mulvaney for refusing to testify.
“If Mulvaney had evidence that contradicted what we’ve already heard, he’d be eager to testify and provide documents. Instead, he’s hiding behind, and assisting in, Trump’s efforts to conceal the truth from the American people,” Schiff said.
Also on Saturday, impeachment investigators released the transcripts of depositions given by deputy assistant to the president Timothy Morrison, and Vice President Pence’s special adviser on Europe and Russia, Jennifer Williams.
In Morrison’s Oct. 31 deposition, he testified U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland told him he’d spoken with Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak about American military funding being conditioned on corruption investigations. “My concern was what Gordon was proposing about getting the Ukrainians pulled into our politics,” Morrison testified.
In Williams’ Nov. 7 deposition, she confirmed that Trump told Pence to not attend the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s inauguration in an apparent signal that he needed to pursue the corruption probes or be frozen out of the military aid.
“My understanding from my colleague—and, again, I wasn’t there for the conversation—was that the President asked the Vice President not to attend,” she testified.
By DAVE GOLDINER
Social networks have been weaponized for the impeachment hearings
Impeachment hearings got underway in the House of Representatives this week, as you likely noticed from the wall-to-wall coverage. The process involves the sort of high-stakes, highly partisan events that naturally dominate social feeds. What television was to impeachment in the 1970s and 1990s, Facebook and Twitter — and YouTube and maybe TikTok — will be to impeachment in 2019.
The hearings on President Donald Trump’s apparent attempted bribery of Ukraine won’t be the first time a president has had to contend with, or benefit from, a hyper-partisan media. Conservative talk radio and Fox News were in full swing when Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, even if their rhetoric looks quaint by today’s standard. But the World Wide Web was in its infancy, and the world was then still innocent of algorithmically sorted news feeds, partisan bot armies, and state-sponsored meme warfare.
Not anymore. If the first day of hearings is any indication, social networks promise to play a powerful role in shaping the way that impeachment hearings are understood by Americans. They are also playing a powerful role in shaping the hearings themselves.
As Ryan Broderick documented at BuzzFeed, Republican lawmakers used their time during Wednesday’s hearing to promote discredited conspiracy theories that are popular on right-wing message boards:
There is one America that believes what was in former FBI director Robert Mueller’s report, that there was coordinated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which helped the Trump campaign. But there is a second America that believes that in the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee colluded with Ukrainian nationals to frame the Trump campaign for collusion with Russia, implicating a Ukrainian American DNC contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, in the collusion and the California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in the subsequent cover-up.
This unfounded theory has been propped up by a 2017 Politico story; reporting from right-wing political commentator John Solomon published earlier this year in the Hill; Attorney General Bill Barr’s summer travels; the yearlong personal investigation into Ukraine conducted by Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer working for Trump; and coverage from Fox News and conservative news sites. All of that came into play during Wednesday’s hearing, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly.
After Republican members of Congress promoted these various smokescreens, right-wing media universally dismissed the hearing — either as an absurd exercise led by clowns, or as an outrageous abuse of power. Brian Stelter described the atmosphere on cable news:
Here’s what else I heard: Wednesday’s hearing was a bust. It was all just hearsay. It was a “disaster” for the Democrats and a “great day” for the Republicans. Impeachment is “stupid.” Impeachment is “fake.” There’s nothing impeachable here. There’s no reason to hold hearings. This inquiry needs to stop right now.
The message was one-sided and overwhelming. Every host and practically every guest said the Republican tribe is winning and the Democrat tribe is losing. I’m sure the president loved watching every minute of it. That’s one of the reasons why this right-wing rhetoric matters so much — because it is reassuring and emboldening Trump.
Meanwhile, if you’re reading the New York Times or watching CNN, you’re getting the sense that the case against Trump is a slam dunk, with multiple people having heard the president directly pressure his ambassador to the European Union to pursue a bribery plot. As Ezra Klein wrote recently, this impeachment is “the easiest possible test case for can our system hold a president accountable.” And yet with something like 40 percent of the country living in an alternate media universe, the basic, actual facts of the case may never penetrate into their reality.
Of course, that fear was one of the best reasons for Democrats to initiate impeachment proceedings in the first place: Show people real witnesses answering important questions over a long enough period of time — train everyone’s eyes on the same set of facts — and maybe a greater consensus will emerge.
Time will tell if they succeed. In the meantime, impeachment has proven to be big business on Facebook — where politicians are taking out highly partisan ads consistent with their respective worldviews. Emily Stewart and Rani Molla have a thorough walkthrough of how impeachment is playing out on Facebook, with Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren using ads to fire up their base and build their donor rolls; Tom Steyer using impeachment as a signature issue to promote his presidential candidacy; and a spice company buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of pro-impeachment advertising because they spread farther on Facebook than non-impeachment ads, resulting in a better return on investment.
Much of the debate about whether Facebook should allow political advertising noted that it represents a small fraction of the company’s business. But as the Vox writers note, that doesn’t mean it’s an insignificant business:
Facebook itself has grown into a formidable political platform in recent years, with campaigns and outside groups spending $284 million on the platform during the midterm elections, according to a report by Tech for Campaigns, a nonprofit that helps political campaigns with digital tools. While that’s just a small share of Facebook’s overall ad revenue, it’s a growing chunk of what campaigns are spending to reach constituents.
As impeachment hearings intensify, it seems likely politicians’ spending on Facebook ads will increase. And a good number of those ads, like so much about impeachment in 2019, will seem to have been created in a parallel world. In many ways, they were.
read more theverge.com
By Casey Newton
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