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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider
Updated: 1 day 20 hours ago

In escalating shutdown fight, Trump cancels plane for Pelosi overseas trip

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 19:31

A day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested that President Donald Trump delay his State of the Union Address because of unresolved issues surrounding a partial government shutdown, the President retaliated by scrapping plans by the Speaker to use a military jet to take a group of lawmakers on an overseas trip to Belgium, Egypt and Afghanistan, saying it would be better for Pelosi to stay in the U.S. and negotiate a deal on a border wall.

“In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate,” the President wrote in a letter to the Speaker.

“Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative,” the President added, as he took the unprecedented step of pulling military travel support for what are known as “CODEL’s” – bipartisan Congressional Delegation trips around the globe, often to visit U.S. soldiers and diplomats.

A day after she all but disinvited him from delivering the State of the Union address, Trump tells Pelosi he is canceling her trip to Belgium, Egypt and Afghanistan, citing the shutdown. The executive branch traditionally provides military transport for congressional trips.

— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) January 17, 2019

Earlier in the day, the Speaker had told reporters she had not yet received a response from the White House to her suggestion of a postponement of the State of the Union.

“I’m not denying him a platform at all,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference. “I’m saying let’s get a date when the government is open.”

During her time as Speaker and House Democratic Leader, Pelosi has been well known for her extended travels around the globe, as the military provides the support and security for such lawmaker travel.

The details of Pelosi's planned travel to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan — particularly those destinations — had not been previously announced. Earlier today her aides asked news organizations not to report that the trip would take place, citing national security.

— Steven Portnoy (@stevenportnoy) January 17, 2019

“Yet another petty, childish temper tantrum by the President of the United States,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI).

The announcement by the President came as lawmakers were actually gathering on a military bus on Capitol Hill, to be taken to Joint Base Andrews for their departure.

The move left some in the Congress exasperated.

“One sophomoric response does not deserve another,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who said the Speaker was wrong to threaten to cancel the State of the Union.

Democrats: Get off the bus and help us secure the border! pic.twitter.com/ftdxupqS0J

— Sean Duffy (@RepSeanDuffy) January 17, 2019

“President Trump denying Speaker Pelosi military travel to visit our troops in Afghanistan, our allies in Egypt and NATO is also inappropriate,” Graham added.

GROUNDHOG DAY: House votes again to end shutdown, while Senate waits

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 17:57

For the eighth time in two weeks, Congress on Thursday went through a familiar round of arguments as the House approved a bill to re-open federal agencies which lost funding before Christmas, with Democrats demanding that Senate Republicans consider those measures to end a partial government shutdown, while GOP Senators said they would not act until there was an agreement on funding for the border wall backed by President Donald Trump.

“What a stupid way to run a business,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, as Democrats accused Senate Republicans of abdicating their constitutional responsibilities.

“The House of Representatives is in a perpetual cycle of Groundhog Day,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), as Republicans again said until Democrats give wall funding to the President, there is no reason for any votes on bills to end the partial government shutdown.

“This is all just theater, this is all just political theater,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), as Republicans remained steadfast in saying they would not vote to re-open the government until the President had his wall money, while Democrats said they would not negotiate on border security funding until the government was open again.

Democrats continued to partly blame Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for the impasse, imploring him to allow the House-passed government funding bills to be considered on the Senate floor.

Again and again the @HouseDemocrats have put forward bills to reopen the gov only to have the Senate GOP block them because they would rather back Trump than let workers receive the pay that they’ve earned. This level of obstruction is absurd. Stop choosing politics over people. https://t.co/Rfw3j9RCWb

— Rep. Ted Deutch (@RepTedDeutch) January 17, 2019

Off the floors of the House and Senate, there were no indications in the hallways of the Capitol of any developing negotiations between Democrats and the White House, as after 27 days of a partial shutdown, it was obvious that the standoff would go into the weekend, and into next week.

“Almost everybody wants to secure the border, almost everybody wants to open up government,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). “What can’t it happen?”

Democrats said the reason was in the Senate, where after two weeks of the 116th Congress, no funding bills had yet been brought to the floor, even as over 800,000 federal workers missed one paycheck last week, and were in danger of missing another on January 25.

“The people want the wall, the people want border security,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), as there was no evidence that GOP lawmakers were going to break from the President, leaving the stalemate in place, with federal workers around the country – some working, some not – waiting to be paid.

“I’m not for a wall,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, as Democrats showed no evidence of any split, either. “I’m concerned about workers not having any paychecks.”

The President and Republicans are asking for $5.7 billion for border security—just one-tenth of 1% of the federal budget.

— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) January 17, 2019

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration called back more workers on Thursday at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to work on needed paperwork for farmers around the nation.

“Not knowing when I go back to work is starting to get a bit old,” one idled federal worker told me.

And for now, it looks like the shutdown is not going to be over anytime soon.

.@SpeakerPelosi: “I’m not for a wall. I’m not for a wall. I’m not for a wall.” pic.twitter.com/TTqMPoOUai

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 17, 2019

“A wall has to be built,” the President said in a speech at the Pentagon.

The latest vote in the House Thursday on a temporary funding bill was disputed by Republicans, who claimed they asked for a final recorded vote – though the video did not show any such GOP request; Democrats allowed for a re-vote next week in the House, as Majority Leader Hoyer said there will also be several other votes on measures to fund the government.

Democrats offer plan to raise federal minimum wage to $15 per hour

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 08:00

With the federal minimum wage of $7.25 cents an hour unchanged for ten years, Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a plan in Congress to more than double that pay rate over a six year period, arguing it’s past time for lawmakers to make it easier for working Americans to earn enough money to support their families.

“President Trump isn’t going to stick up for American workers – we Democrats will,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer said to cheers at a U.S. Capitol news conference.

“No person working full-time in America should be living in poverty,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), who will lead the charge for a higher minimum wage in the House as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee.

“The current $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage is a starvation wage,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

"No American working full time should be living in poverty," House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott said when introducing legislation to increase the hourly minimum wage to $15.

The last time Congress raised the federal minimum wage was in 2007. pic.twitter.com/nypZl0CX7L

— POLITICO (@politico) January 16, 2019

“Increasing the federal minimum wage is the right thing to do,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL). “I believe this legislation would provide a boost to businesses and the broader economy.”

While the Congress has not touched the minimum wage since Democrats pushed through an increase in 2007, individual states have taken a different approach, as now 29 states have a higher minimum wage than the feds.

Just last year, voters in Missouri approved raising the minimum wage to $12/hour by 2023; Arkansas voters approved a minimum wage going up to $11 by 2021.

“The last time we were in charge, one of the first things we did was raise the minimum wage,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), referring to a 2007 law approved by a Democratic Congress and signed by President George W. Bush.

“It was not enough then,” Hoyer said of the $7.25 per hour federal wage. “It is clearly not enough now.”

The $15 per hour wage – known by some groups as the “Fight for 15” – certainly has a good chance at getting through the House, now that Democrats in charge; but it faces an uphill fight in the U.S. Senate.

Our #FightFor15 Sisters and Brothers welcoming members of Congress to this afternoon's announcement of the #RaiseTheWage Act of 2019. pic.twitter.com/rza7EjsAfP

— Fight For 15 (@fightfor15) January 16, 2019

“A living wage for all workers helps business, families, and the economy,” said Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA).

“The steady increase is good for workers, good for business, and good for the economy,” said Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT). “No American working full time should live in poverty.”

A section-by-section review of the bill can be found here.

The actual legislative text is here.

TSA: “Financial limitations” causing airport screeners not to show up for work

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 18:59

After previously denouncing press reports of higher than normal absences of airport security personnel during a partial government shutdown as “fake news,” the Transportation Security Administration said on Wednesday that more of its employees are not showing up for work because of money issues caused by a missed paycheck last week, as the shutdown entered a 26th day with no resolution in sight.

In a news release, the TSA stated that “many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations,” as the agency said its absentee rate was up from the same day a year ago.

On Monday, the TSA reported 6.8 percent of unscheduled absences, compared to 2.5 percent on the same day a year earlier. On Tuesday, the unscheduled absence rate was 6.1 percent, compared to 3.7 percent on that date in 2018.

TSA’s statement today acknowledging what federal employees have been warning about in our reporting for weeks- employees are calling out because of “financial limitations.” #GovernmentShutdown @wsbtv pic.twitter.com/ojCqOj9skU

— Nicole Carr (@NicoleCarrWSB) January 16, 2019

The TSA did not provide any details on what airports might be experiencing the highest absentee rates for screeners, citing security concerns.

“Aviation security remains an essential priority, and TSA does not want to create any perception that an adversary could use specific information to determine possible vulnerabilities,” the agency noted.

Back on January 4, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Houlton ridiculed press reports of TSA airport staffing shortages, labeling it a ‘non-existent sickout.’

“More #FakeNews from @CNN,” Houlton tweeted.

But since then, multiple examples have surfaced at airports in Miami, Houston, and other cities, where checkpoints – or entire terminals – have been shuttered, because of a lack of security screeners.

If there is one group of workers impacted by the shutdown which members of Congress come into contact with the most – it would be TSA screeners at airport – as Democrats have repeatedly invoked stories of financial hardship involving furloughed federal workers.

These are the faces of everyday families who are hurting as a result of the President’s shutdown. The photo I’m holding is of Becky Esquivel and her family. Becky works for TSA. I met with her and other federal workers last week to hear their stories. pic.twitter.com/yy1ZtN9uEM

— Senator Jacky Rosen (@SenJackyRosen) January 16, 2019

The admission of “financial limitations” on workers not being employed came as the Trump Administration announced more federal employees are being called back to work – even though they can’t be paid until the Congress and the President solve the shutdown impasse, which started December 22 in a dispute over money for the President’s border wall.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Wednesday that Farm Service Agency workers would be brought back to their jobs for three days this month – all to help deal with a backlog of requests by farmers for financial aid, loans and other needs.

Also, thousands of workers at the Internal Revenue Service are being brought back to their jobs, to insure that the tax filing season begins on time, at the end of January.

Pelosi suggests delay for Trump State of the Union due to shutdown

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 15:41

With a partial government shutdown showing no signs of being resolved, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday basically ‘disinvited’ President Donald Trump from a scheduled January 29 State of the Union Address, saying that the Secret Service and Homeland Security Department should not be tasked with such a major event while they are in a shutdown status.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened,” Pelosi wrote in a letter sent to the President on Wednesday morning.

There was no immediate reaction from the White House or the President.

The President gives the State of the Union at the invitation of the Congress, as the House and Senate must agree to use the House chamber for such an event.

The reaction in Congress split down party lines.

“It is very ironic that Democrats reference security concerns in their latest grandstanding tactic, delaying the State of the Union, but will not address the security concerns that are creating a humanitarian crisis at the border,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN).

“We know the state of our union,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), as Democrats said there should be no speech from the President while the partial shutdown continues.

In an interview with NBC News, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the President had been “disinvited” by Pelosi.

I applaud @SpeakerPelosi's decision to postpone the State of the Union address during a time of turmoil and uncertainty for workers across the nation. Our main focus must be on ending this manufactured crisis and reopening the government.

— Rep. Joe Neguse (@RepJoeNeguse) January 16, 2019

“He can make it from the Oval Office,” the Speaker told reporters.

Speaker Pelosi reiterates potential security concerns of having State of the Union during shutdown.

Asked by @GarrettHaake if POTUS should view this as a consequence, Pelosi says it is a “housekeeping matter” and suggests Trump could do it from the Oval pic.twitter.com/iDAzFStsXp

— Bo Erickson (@BoKnowsNews) January 16, 2019

.@KateBolduan asks @LeaderHoyer if @SpeakerPelosi is essentially saying the State of the Union on the Hill is canceled.

"Yep!" he responds, later adding: "The State of the Union is off."

Any chance Trump could convince them otherwise?


(Full exchange below) pic.twitter.com/6a9QMy31LT

— Ashley Killough (@KilloughCNN) January 16, 2019

“This is the shutdown that one man – President Donald Trump – gave us,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD).

Even among Republicans there was some public grumbling about the standoff.

“I know for sure right now, we’re going nowhere,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who for a second day went to the Senate floor to chide all sides, all but pleading with his colleagues to step forward with ideas to end the shutdown.

“Shutting down is a losing proposition all the way around,” said Isakson, who has joined with a handful of other GOP Senators in arguing against shutdowns, no matter the issue.

Meanwhile, House Democrats were pushing on Wednesday afternoon toward yet another vote on a measure to fund the agencies and departments of the federal government which have been denied funding since before Christmas.

This time, the funding – which would extend through February 8 – was to be tucked into a broader disaster relief bill, to funnel aid to victims of Hurricane Michael, as well as wildfires in California.

AG nominee urges better focus on stopping mentally ill from buying guns

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 09:00

President Donald Trump’s choice to be U.S. Attorney General told Senators on Tuesday that he favors stronger measures by the federal government to insure that people who suffer from mental illness are not able to purchase firearms in the future, arguing that would be the simplest way to strengthen efforts to stop gun violence in America.

“The problem of our time is to get an effective system in place that can keep dangerous firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people,” Attorney General nominee William Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“That should be priority number one, and it’s going to take some hard work,” Barr said, as the former Attorney General for President George H.W. Bush made clear that while he’s no advocate for gun control, something must be done when it comes to mental health and gun purchases.

“There is room for reasonable regulation,” Barr said, even as he praised the Heller decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008, which reinforced the right of people to own a firearm for self-defense.

Barr's response to Sen. Feinstein's question on if he believes more gun control won't stop more gun crime: We have to put the resources in to get the system built up the way we did many years ago on the felon records and so forth. We have to get the system working. pic.twitter.com/SWCMELAK6g

— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) January 15, 2019

In questioning from Senators of both parties on guns, Barr endorsed the basics of what are known as ‘Red Flag laws,’ which allow family members or police to go to court in a bid to take guns away from someone who could be a danger.

While Barr made clear his support for the Second Amendment, some gun rights supporters object to “Red Flag” laws, worried that it will lead to more gun seizures than backers advertise.

“Let’s get down to the real problem we’re confronting, which is keeping these weapons out of the hands of people who are mentally ill,” Barr said, shrugging off much of the debate over guns.

Under questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and then Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Barr rejected the idea of a new ban on assault weapons, saying the current instant background check system must have more information from state and federal sources when it comes to mental health questions.

Barr says core priority of gun control efforts should be keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill

— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) January 15, 2019

“All the rest of this stuff is really esssential just rhetoric until we get that problem dealt with,” Barr added.

Judge blocks Trump bid for citizenship question on 2020 census

Tue, 01/15/2019 - 20:30

In a legal defeat for the Trump Administration, a federal judge in New York ruled on Tuesday that efforts by the Commerce Department to add a question on U.S. citizenship to the 2020 census was ‘unlawful for a multitude of independent reasons’ – not because of the substance of the question – but for how officials circumvented normal procedures to approve the query.

In a 277 page decision issued on Tuesday morning, Judge Jesse Furman repeatedly rebuked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, saying his decision to add a question on citizenship was ‘arbitrary and capricious.’

“Secretary Ross acted without observing procedures required by law, including a statute requiring that he notify Congress of the subjects planned for any census at least three years in advance,” Furman wrote in his ruling, describing Ross’s actions as ‘egregious,’ and some of his explanations as ‘materially inaccurate.’

Judge Furman finds that Secretary of Commerce Ross lied to Congress about why the Trump Administration added a citizenship question to the census. pic.twitter.com/7ekMD7PMYN

— Sam Bagenstos (@sbagen) January 15, 2019

“The Court’s Opinion is, to put it mildly, long,” the judge acknowledged. “But that is for good reasons,” as he ruled that Secretary Ross violated and ignored a series of laws which govern changes to the census questionnaire.

“He failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices — a veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut APA violations,” the judge wrote.

Ross has so far avoided a court-ordered deposition about his decisions; Democrats in the House have indicated they would still like to question Ross about how the citizenship question was dealt with.

“Putting a citizenship question on the census is a cynical and sinister attempt to suppress participation and undercount immigrants short changing fair apportionment of resources and political representation,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

The issue of counting everyone – illegal immigrants included – is a sensitive political matter, because the census determines not only the apportionment of Congress, but also the level of aid which can come from the federal government for a variety of federal programs.

A federal court blocks @RealDonaldTrump’s administration from adding a citizenship question on the #2020Census! As a member of Congress who has led the charge against the question, I applaud this ruling. It’s the right decision and will help ensure a more accurate census count.

— Grace Meng (@RepGraceMeng) January 15, 2019

A federal court striking down the citizenship question on the census confirms what we knew all along – adding the question was politically motivated, unlawful, and done to chill participation.

— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) January 15, 2019

“It is important to conduct a census which is comprehensive and accurate,” said Rep. Albio Sires (D-NY).

“This citizenship question brings together @realDonaldTrump’s anti-immigrant agenda and his attempts to undermine representative democracy and has no business in the #2020Census,” tweeted Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

Barr: Mueller not involved in ‘witch hunt’ over Russia probe

Tue, 01/15/2019 - 15:55

Confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday for President Trump’s choice for the post of U.S. Attorney General became quickly consumed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of the investigation into Russian interference, as nominee William Barr broke with a prime accusation of the President about the Mueller investigation.

“I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt,” Barr said, who was pressed immediately by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to investigate what Republicans say was wrongdoing within the FBI and Justice Department with regards to President Trump.

Barr’s statement was notable – since President Trump has repeatedly accused Mueller of being engaged in a ‘witch hunt’ concerning charges of Russian interference, and possible ties to the Trump campaign in the 2016 elections.

“I’ve known Bob Mueller for thirty years,” Barr said, recalling their work when Barr first served as Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush. “We’ve been friends since.”

Attorney General Nominee William Barr: "I believe it is vitally important that the Special Counsel be allowed to complete his investigation."

Watch full confirmation hearing here: https://t.co/3nmMhGFfyZ pic.twitter.com/BqHzyPPTjm

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 15, 2019

Asked about the decision of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, Barr said Sessions made the right decision to stay out of the Mueller probe – a decision which angered the President.

Barr was asked repeatedly about a memo that he wrote to the Justice Department, in which he weighed in with his thoughts about questions he had about the scope of the Mueller investigation.

“Bob will be allowed to finish his work,” Barr said flatly, pledging as much transparency as possible to release the details of Mueller’s findings.

“The country needs a credible resolution to these issues,” Barr said.

Barr also revealed that he met with President Trump in 2017, when the White House was looking for lawyers to defend the President with regards to the Special Counsel investigation.

“How well do you know Bob Mueller?” Barr recalled being asked, describing the meeting as a short one, to which there was no follow up, until the President moved to select him as the Attorney General, following the departure of Sessions.

Barr describes "brief" meeting with Trump in June 2017. Says Trump asked about Mueller. Barr says he told Trump that "the Barrs and the Muellers are good friends and will be when this is all over." Also said Mueller is a "straight shooter & should be dealt w/as such."

— Ryan Lucas (@relucasz) January 15, 2019

As Democrats pressed Barr about his memo on the Russia probe, Barr said Mueller could only be fired for ‘good cause’ over his conduct of the investigation.

“Frankly it’s unimaginable to me that Bob would ever do anything that gave rise to ‘good cause,'” Barr told Senators.

Asked about a statement by one of the President’s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, that the White House should have the chance to ‘correct’ any public report by the Special Counsel, Barr frowned on that idea.

“That will not happen,” Barr said.

From exchange with @SenatorLeahy on Russia, Attorney General Nominee William Barr: "I believe the Russians interfered, or attempted to interfere, in the election and I think we have to get to the bottom of it."

Watch full hearing here: https://t.co/3nmMhGWQXz pic.twitter.com/XikOQeFU5v

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 15, 2019

“I believe the Russians interfered, or attempted to interfere, in the election and I think we have to get to the bottom of it,” he added.

As Barr was testifying, Mueller’s team filed new papers in a Washington federal court, asking for more time before sentencing Rick Gates, an aide and associate of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

In a court filing, the Special Counsel’s office said Gates “continues to cooperate with respect to several ongoing investigations,” as Mueller’s team suggested another update in two months – indicating that the overall Russia probe is certainly not finished.

Coast Guard misses paychecks as partial shutdown reaches Day 25

Tue, 01/15/2019 - 09:05

The bitter political dispute over funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall extended its reach on Tuesday, with over 40,000 members of the Coast Guard not being paid as scheduled, joining 800,000 federal workers who missed a paycheck last week, as there were no indications of any break in the impasse, which was spurred by a funding lapse for part of the federal government that started before Christmas.

“We must re-open the government immediately,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), as Democrats – and some Republicans – highlighted the stories of federal workers from back home who are being financially squeezed by this shutdown showdown.

“I have $24 in cash on me and I have $2.40 left in my bank account,” tweeted Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), quoting a federal worker not getting paid because of the shutdown. “If we miss this upcoming paycheck, I will be completely broke.”

“Today at Denver International Airport, an air traffic controller told me how he worked through the holidays, only to receive a paycheck last Friday for 77 cents,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO).

On social media, Democrats in Congress were sending out videos of federal workers who have missed paychecks, trying to add even more of a human element to this political fight.

At my roundtable yesterday, federal workers shared their stories with me about how the shutdown is hurting them and many others across our region.

People like Sandra, who is a single mom and works at TSA at DFW Airport. pic.twitter.com/ckOryR4Idl

— Colin Allred (@RepColinAllred) January 14, 2019

Sam is a federal employee working at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). He has been furloughed during the shutdown and has been forced to search for unemployment and food stamps to stay afloat financially. #ShutdownStories pic.twitter.com/93bsrWHkHI

— Martin Heinrich (@MartinHeinrich) January 14, 2019

Democrats even launched a website to take in shutdown stories from federal workers – trumpshutdownstories.us – which featured a picture of an overflowing trash can with the White House in the background.

While Republicans were making their own arguments about the need for more in the way of border security, the GOP was pumping out many fewer messages of support for the President and Republicans.

“I am furloughed and fully support the shut down,” was the message from a federal worker relayed on Twitter by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), one of the few such GOP statements on Monday. “Build the wall.”

Democrats ramped up their social media offensive as the January 15 pay date arrived for the Coast Guard – which unlike most of the federal government – still issues checks to members twice a month, instead of every two weeks.

Coast Guard members were getting extra attention back home as well in the press, as there were stories of special free food pantries, donated meals, offers to delay tuition payments for schools, and other ways that groups were trying to help Coast Guard members – but like other federal workers, their pay remains in limbo.

The growing number of stories had Republicans urging compromise as well to end the game of shutdown chicken – but there was no evidence of any GOP rebellion in Congress against the President.

I talked to a waitress in Bangor this morning whose husband works for TSA. They literally had to get a loan to pay their mortgage for this month. That's just wrong. I continue to believe that a compromise is possible because this is a problem that we have to solve.

— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) January 15, 2019

“The reality is that federal workers have bills that need to be paid,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

There were no hints on Monday of any breakthrough, as President Trump lobbed more barbs and Democrats, and there were no reports of any talks or negotiations to resume the operations of about one-quarter of the federal government.

“When it comes to keeping the American people safe, I will never, ever back down,” the President told a convention of the American Farm Bureau in New Orleans.

Democrats meanwhile unveiled two more plans to re-open the federal government; one would fund operations through February 1, the other through the end of February.

But at this point, Senate Republicans continue to refuse to bring any House-passed funding bills up for a vote; in retaliation, Democrats again on Monday blocked action on a bill dealing with foreign policy in the Mideast, arguing the only thing the Senate should be doing is funding the government, and getting federal workers paid.


House Democrats launch sweeping probe of prescription drug prices

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 21:01

With the first of a series of hearings set for later this month, Democrats on a key House committee on Monday sent letters to a dozen major pharmaceutical companies, demanding documents and information on how those drug giants set their prices, questioning why the cost of big name drugs have gone up at more than four times the rate of inflation over the last 12 years.

“The Committee on Oversight and Reform is investigating the actions of drug companies in raising prescription drug prices in the United States, as well as the effects of these actions on federal and state budgets and on American families,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the head of the House Oversight Committee.

Cummings sent letters to an array of familiar names in the prescription drug business – Amgen, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Eli Lilly, Novartis, and more – pressing for answers about the cost of drugs dealing with everything from arthritis to cancer, diabetes, cholesterol, and acid reflux.

NEW: House Oversight panel is launching what chairman Elijah Cummings calls ‘one of the most wide-ranging investigations in decades into the prescription drug industry’s pricing practices’

These 12 pharmaceutical cos. got letters inquiring into pricing of these $$$ drugs pic.twitter.com/x0hvBSENYm

— Laura Litvan (@LauraLitvan) January 14, 2019

“For years, drug companies have been aggressively increasing prices on existing drugs and setting higher launch prices for new drugs while recording windfall profits,” Cummings wrote.

“The goals of this investigation are to determine why drug companies are increasing prices so dramatically, how drug companies are using the proceeds, and what steps can be taken to reduce prescription drug prices.”

The letters were sent after a group of Democrats unveiled legislation last week aimed to forcing price reductions for prescription drugs, a rare issue where Democrats and President Donald Trump find themselves in some agreement – at least on the basics – of forcing drug companies to lower prices.

Democrats though say that while President Trump has talked about letting Medicare negotiate with major drug companies, the Trump Administration has not followed through on that promise to help consumers deal with rising drug prices.

An initial hearing is scheduled for January 29.

No one should have to choose between paying the bills and refilling their prescriptions. That’s why we’ve introduced this bold, progressive legislation to #LowerDrugPrices for good.https://t.co/mtEyR1GrLh

— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) January 10, 2019

“The cost of prescription drugs is too high in our country and prices just keep rising,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“Don’t let Big Pharma claim that innovation is the reason why the cost of prescription drugs continue to rise,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA).

President Trump on border wall: “I will never, ever back down”

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 20:01

President Donald Trump used a speech before a convention of farmers in New Orleans on Monday to make an extended defense of his call for funding for a border wall, a dispute which has spurred a partial government shutdown, making clear he will not accept anything less from Congress than full funding for his wall along the border with Mexico.

“We’re going to have a wall, we’re going to have a barrier, we’re going to have something that’s going to be very strong,” the President said to cheers at the 100th gathering of the American Farm Bureau.

“When it comes to keeping the American people safe, I will never, ever back down,” the President told farmers. “I didn’t need this fight,” as he pointed the finger of blame directly at Democrats.

“The government remains shut down for one reason and for one reason only – the Democrats will not fund border security,” Mr. Trump said.

Speaking about his demands for a border wall, President Trump says he will "never, ever back down" https://t.co/26Qx21VZkk pic.twitter.com/azLCLhTz39

— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 14, 2019

Some of the biggest applause for the President came as he promised to make it much easier for U.S. farmers to get immigrant laborers into the country, in order to pick crops.

“We’re going to actually make it easier,” the President said, “because you need these people.”

In his speech before the American Farm Bureau, the President spent much of his time focused on immigration, saying little about issues which have created financial troubles for farmers, like retaliatory tariffs levied on exports of U.S. farm exports, which have cost them agricultural markets, especially in China.

As for the partial government shutdown – which includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture – the President glossed over the impact of the shutdown on U.S. farmers:

+ He took credit for the signing of a major farm policy bill late last year – but didn’t mention that the shutdown has delayed implementation of the measure.

+ The President touted billions of dollars in bailout payments for farmers hit by retaliatory tariffs – but didn’t say that the shutdown has halted those payments to farmers.

+ The President touted his support for year round availability of E15 ethanol – but didn’t mention that the shutdown is delaying work to make sure that can happen.

“The greatest harvest is yet to come.”

President Trump just finished addressing the @FarmBureau Annual Convention. He paid tribute to farmers & Farm Bureau & talked about trade deals in the works, regulatory reform, the estate tax, year-round E15, the farm bill & more. #AFBF19 pic.twitter.com/bSC65yGCj0

— Iowa Farm Bureau (@IowaFarmBureau) January 14, 2019

But it didn’t seem to matter to the crowd, including Arizona rancher Jim Chilton, who was called to the podium by the President.

“Mr. President, we need a wall,” Chilton said to a standing ovation.

Trump heads to see farmers with shutdown in fourth week

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 02:40

With no solution in sight to a partial government shutdown which has denied scheduled paychecks to some 800,000 federal workers, and forced hundreds of thousands of those same employees to continue working without pay, President Donald Trump flies to New Orleans on Monday to address an agricultural group which is a very familiar with some of the impacts from the shuttering of certain federal agencies since the weekend before Christmas.

“Even though he’s not directly trying to hurt our farmers, this shutdown is going to hurt our farmers,” said American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall at the 100th American Farm Bureau convention on Sunday.

Citing closed U.S. Department of Agriculture offices, delays on loans for farm operations, and other problems the shutdown has created for farmers, Duvall said it can’t go on much longer.

“I mean, the clock is ticking, we all know that when Spring gets here, everybody is going to need to be moving,” Duvall said.

“I know we’re shut down now, and you don’t like that, and I don’t like that,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) told the Farm Bureau.

“We got to do something about that – but honest to God, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Roberts, the retiring Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

USDA booth closed at Farm Bureau convention due to continuing Federal Government shutdown at the same time as labor remains one of the biggest issues for US farmers. pic.twitter.com/urv2Y3ARvc

— LAN Washington (@AgUSACAN) January 13, 2019

Other than the federal workers who have missed their paychecks in the dispute over President Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in money for his campaign pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border – farmers, and those involved in agriculture – may have felt the impact of the government funding impasse more than any group across the United States.

Asked at the Farm Bureau convention where his group stood on the President’s border wall, Duvall hedged.

“As far as Farm Bureau policy, we really don’t say what a secure border looks like,” said Duvall, who led the Georgia Farm Bureau for nine years. “If you’re looking for me to say, we support a wall or don’t support a wall – we support border security.”

The President’s speech to the Farm Bureau convention on Monday comes at a tricky time for agricultural interests in the United States, as farmers big and small have encountered lost markets and other economic troubles because of President Trump’s trade policies – and now, the shutdown.

"I may lose the farm, but I strongly feel we need some border security." Many farmers have stayed loyal to President Trump and his demands for $5.7 billion for a border wall, even as the shutdown threatens their livelihood. https://t.co/t2u0TKbUem pic.twitter.com/Nh4VrRopAd

— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 11, 2019

The list of impacts on farm interests from the shutdown is long.

Peppered in every corner of the country, Farm Service Agency offices are shutdown, leaving farmers without familiar contacts and help. Loan applications by farmers are stuck in bureaucratic limbo, with no action possible until the shutdown ends.

Billions of dollars in farm bailout payments – authorized by President Trump after his trade policies resulted in lost export markets for American farmers – are on hold as well during the shutdown.

Disaster assistance in the wake of Hurricane Michael – for hard hit farmers in Florida and Georgia – remains in political limbo in the Congress during this dispute.

Important farm data reports aren’t being issued, which hampers decisions by farmers on what they’re going to plant, and what kind of subsidies will be available for them in 2019.

And the list goes on.

With the USDA Farm Service Agency closed due to the shutdown farmers are unable to get the financial assistance they rely on. https://t.co/cQIble8oKX @fox43

— Jossie Carbonare (@JossieCarbonare) January 13, 2019

The President spent the weekend in Washington lobbing barbs on Twitter at Democrats, with no hint of any active negotiations to end the shutdown.

“I’m in the White House, waiting,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Sunday morning, as snow hit the nation’s capital. “The Democrats are everywhere but Washington as people await their pay.”

President Trump also again sent confusing signals about what he wants in the talks, saying in another tweet that Democrats had ruled out negotiations over DACA as part of the shutdown negotiations – even though he himself has said repeatedly in recent weeks that DACA should not be included, because the Supreme Court is likely to rule on it soon.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – a close ally of who in the last few days has urged the President to everything from declare a national emergency to cut a border wall deal that includes DACA – went on ‘Fox News Sunday’ and called for the President to allow the government to re-open, to spur new negotiations.

But – that’s an idea that the President has repeatedly rejected.

As for Democrats, a number from the House spent the weekend in Puerto Rico, which told some conservative commentators all they needed to know.

“New polling showing majority blames Trump/GOP for shutdown underscores how confident Dems are in this,” tweeted Fox News contributor Byron York.

“They can vacation in Hawaii, take the sun in San Juan, mid-shutdown, without worry of blame. So they’re doing it,” York wrote.

Shutdown polls: Who’s to blame?

ABC/WaPo 1/8-1/11: 53% say Trump & Rs, 29% Ds

CNN 1/10-1/11: 55% say Trump & Rs, 32% Ds

CBS/YouGov 1/9-1/11: 47% say Trump, 3% Rs, 30% Ds

Reuters/Ipsos 1/1-1/7: 51% say Trump, 7% Rs, 32% Ds

Politico/MC 1/4-1/6: 47% say Trump, 5% Rs, 33% Ds

— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) January 13, 2019

“Trump now owns the longest shutdown in history,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), as Democrats said repeatedly that Senate Republicans simply need to approve bills passed by Democrats in the House to end the shutdown.

“Your move Senate Republicans,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). “Call a vote. Override the veto. Show some independence.”

But for now, Republicans are refusing to vote on any funding bills approved by Democrats in the House over the last two weeks – as GOP leaders say nothing will go on the floor until there is an agreement with President Trump.

And as of now – there’s no deal.

Border wall fight didn’t really start until after GOP lost House

Sat, 01/12/2019 - 09:00

While President Donald Trump has repeatedly made clear his desire to build hundreds of miles of wall along the Mexican border since early in his campaign for President, the GOP Congress never really came close to approving billions of dollars for the wall, though there were certainly opportunities for Republicans at several points to win as much as $25 billion for the border while the GOP was in charge of Congress in 2017 and 2018 – but those efforts failed as most GOP lawmakers backed away from possible bipartisan immigration compromises.

As Republicans worked on two years of spending bills during the time that the GOP controlled the Congress under President Trump, lawmakers twice approved $1.6 billion for border security – but only for fencing and other defenses – not for the wall which was a central part of the President’s campaign.

Here’s a look at what the President asked for – and what the Congress did.

1. Trump 2017 and 2018 budgets. President Trump’s first budget, unveiled in May 2017, had money specifically designated ‘to construct a physical wall along the southern border,’ as part of a $2.6 billion border security plan, which included extra border patrol and immigration agents. In the President’s second budget plan issued in February of 2018, the Trump Administration again had what the White House labeled “critical investments” in border security to combat illegal immigration, budget plans which included “$1.6 billion for construction of the border wall.” President Trump wanted much more for the wall, but even his budget plans which were sent to Congress didn’t come close to the $5.7 billion he is requesting now, during this partial government shutdown fight.

2. Republicans ignore the wall in two Omnibus spending plans. Just like is happening now in early 2019, the Congress took well into 2017 and 2018 to finish their budget work (which should have done by the previous October). In both of those budgets, Republicans in the Congress approved money for border security – like fencing – but not a wall. For example, in May 2017, the GOP Congress okayed $341 million “to replace approximately 40 miles of existing primary pedestrian and vehicle border fencing along the southwest border.” In the 2018 Omnibus, which was voted on in late March of 2018, the President received the more specific approval of nearly $1.6 billion in fencing and border barriers. You can see the list of projects below. Again – none of that is for a ‘border wall.’

3. Immigration reform efforts run aground in Senate. In February of 2018, the Senate capped off an acrimonious several weeks of debate and negotiation with the President by defeating four different immigration plans. The one offered by GOP Senators with the most money for the border wall – $25 billion – received just 39 votes, the least amount of support of any of the immigration packages voted on by Senators. There was also a bipartisan immigration plan which included $25 billion for border security, paired with a 10-12 year pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrant “Dreamers.” That plan received 54 votes, but short of the 60 needed. Republicans and the President could have secured funding for the President’s wall with this plan, backed by Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) – but it was opposed by most GOP Senators because of the DACA provisions. No compromise – no wall.

BREAKING: Senate #immigration vote on bi-partisan Rounds-King amendment – giving #DREAMers a 10-12 year path to citizenship and $25 billion for border security – fails 54-45

— Katherine Gypson (@kgyp) February 15, 2018

4. President talks as if he’s already secured wall funding. Throughout all of the battles in the House and Senate over immigration in 2017 and 2018, President Trump repeatedly made comments in public which would lead his supporters to believe that his administration was already building new sections of wall, when in fact, the money approved by Congress had gone to repair earlier walls, and to deploy new fencing – but not any of the wall he had proposed in the 2016 campaign. “Not happy with $1.6 billion, but it does start the wall,” the President said when he signed the Omnibus in March 2018. “Just so you understand, we have $1.6 billion,” the President said in April. “We have $1.6 billion, and we’re starting brand-new sections of walls. But we need to have a wall that’s about 800 miles,” Mr. Trump added. Even on Twitter, while the Congress never gave him any money for new sections of wall along the border, the President made things look different on the wall.

Great briefing this afternoon on the start of our Southern Border WALL! pic.twitter.com/pmCNoxxlkH

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2018

5. Senate looks to repeat the $1.6 billion for 2019. In developing spending bills for 2019, the Senate Appropriations Committee – controlled by the Republican Party – put together a homeland security funding measure which kept the amount of money for border security at $1.6 billion, the same level okayed by the Omnibus funding bill which Congress approved in March of 2018. In the funding bill for border security efforts in 2019, there is no mention of a border wall in the Senate plan, but there is a very specific mention that the $1.6 billion “shall be available for approximately 65 miles of pedestrian fencing” on the southwest border, in the Rio Grande River sector in Texas. This Homeland Security Appropriations bill was never brought to the Senate floor for a vote, either before or after the 2018 elections.

6. House bill advertises wall funding – but gives few details. As the House Appropriations Committee rolled out its version of the Homeland Security funding bill for 2019, the GOP headline was that Republicans were giving the President nearly $5 billion for his wall. President Trump was very happy, as on July 18 he tweeted his thanks to Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), who was in charge of the homeland security funding measure. But there was one puzzling part about this GOP bill – if you actually read the text of the legislative language and/or the report language for the bill, there is no actual mention of a wall. Instead, in debate, fencing was referred to more than anything else. As you can see here, there’s no mention of a wall in the text of the bill put forward by House Republicans in the summer of 2018.

7. No wall vote until after the November elections. Even as the President was still pushing for money for the border wall, Republicans in the House and Senate were ready to wrap up work for the year without addressing the wall issue. The Senate had approved a stop gap funding bill to February 8, 2019 – and many Senators headed home on December 19 and 20, thinking their work was over. But then, the House cobbled together a bill which combined $5.7 billion for border security with almost $8 billion in disaster relief for hurricane damage in Florida and Georgia, along with help for wildfire victims in California. But even as the House approved that measure – as with previous House bills on the border – there was no direct mention of a border wall, just an overall amount of money that Republicans wanted to spend on border security.

8. The House GOP plan leads to a shutdown standoff. GOP leaders had shied away from forcing a vote on money for the border wall in the House throughout 2017 and 2018, convinced the votes were not there among Republicans. But in the final days before Christmas, GOP leaders – at the urging of the President – rolled the dice, and won a majority. But the bill never received a vote in the Senate before the start of the new Congress, because it certainly was not going to get the 60 votes it needed to get past a certain filibuster by Democrats. Once Democrats took control of the House on January 3 for the 116th Congress, it was back to square one. The partial government shutdown began on December 22 – 800,000 federal workers missed their first paycheck on January 11 – and this fight seems to have no end in sight.

This is common sense. Congress must pass a bill that ends the crisis at our border. pic.twitter.com/wD0PPKfpNM

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 11, 2019

While the President says he wants $5.7 billion for the border wall now that Congress is divided between the two parties, he wasn’t able to get any money at all for the wall when Republicans were in charge in 2017 and 2018.

And that makes it much more difficult to see how he gets the money in 2019, when the Congress is divided between Democrats and Republicans.

House sends bill to Trump guaranteeing back pay for federal workers

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 17:56

Even as the White House and Congressional Democrats were locked in continuing standoff about funding for border security, the House on Friday overwhelmingly voted to send a bill to President Donald Trump which would insure that federal workers are paid all of the money they would normally receive in salary – whenever a partial government shutdown finally ends.

On the twenty-first day of this shutdown dispute over money for the President’s border wall, the House voted 411-7 in favor of the retroactive pay bill, which had been approved a day earlier by the Senate on a voice vote.

The action also came as hundreds of thousands of federal workers felt the sting of missing a paycheck which would normally arrive on this Friday.

“This is a critical step towards undoing some of the damage caused by the government shutdown,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), whose district is home to thousands of federal workers just outside of Washington, D.C.

But as Beyer and others noted – none of the 800,000 workers impacted by the partial shutdown can get paid until the Congress and the President agree on a funding measure.

BREAKING: House votes to provide back pay to federal employees after shutdown ends; bill goes to Trump for his signature

— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) January 11, 2019

Seven Republicans in the House voted against the retroactive pay: Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, Rep. Andy Biggs and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, and Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida.

In a response on Twitter, Rep. Amash (R-MI) said he objected because the plan codifies the approval of back pay for federal workers idled under a shutdown, which is what has happened under previous federal government shutdown scenarios.

This is not a bill to okay federal worker back pay for just *this* shutdown; it changes permanent law so that in any future shutdown, workers will be paid but told not to come to work. This is bad policy. It makes shutdowns more likely to happen and more likely to last longer. https://t.co/kFc3XTJdEV

— Justin Amash (@justinamash) January 11, 2019

You can read the text of the bill here.

The legislation now goes to the President for his signature.

Earlier on Friday, the House had approved a fourth spending bill this week to re-open certain federal agencies and departments, which had been shuttered by the spending dispute – the latest bill would fund the National Park Service and the EPA.

“Why do you have to shut down government?” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as she chided the President in a House floor speech.

10 Republicans broke ranks on the National Park Service/EPA funding bill, again demonstrating that most Republicans are not abandoning the President in his quest to squeeze money out of Democrats for his border wall.

The President made that case on Twitter earlier in the day.

Humanitarian Crisis at our Southern Border. I just got back and it is a far worse situation than almost anyone would understand, an invasion! I have been there numerous times – The Democrats, Cryin’ Chuck and Nancy don’t know how bad and dangerous it is for our ENTIRE COUNTRY….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2019

…The Steel Barrier, or Wall, should have been built by previous administrations long ago. They never got it done – I will. Without it, our Country cannot be safe. Criminals, Gangs, Human Traffickers, Drugs & so much other big trouble can easily pour in. It can be stopped cold!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2019

As lawmakers went home for the weekend, it was obvious that no deal was near.

“While the President throws a tantrum, people are suffering,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).

“We’ve wasted an entire week,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), as he ridiculed Democrats for forcing votes on spending bills which Senate Republicans have refused to vote on.

There was also no GOP unity on whether the President should emergency powers to move budget money from other accounts in the military, or under the Army Corps of Engineers, in order to fund the border wall project, as the idea of floated Thursday of taking the money from hurricane and wildfire disaster relief seemed to fall flat with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

GOP all over the map on shutdown strategy: Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows says no one seriously discussing using disaster aid for wall. Florida Rep. Gus Bilirakus very opposed to that idea. Top R on Judiciary Doug Collins calls using disaster money a real viable option.

— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) January 11, 2019

On Saturday, this shutdown will set a record for the longest ever, surpassing one that took place over 21 days in December of 1995 and January of 1996.

Federal workers miss paycheck as partial shutdown hits 21 days

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 09:00

With no agreement between Congress and the President in the ongoing dispute over funding for a border wall, hundreds of thousands of federal workers will not receive their scheduled paychecks on Friday, even though over 400,000 have had to continue working for the government, as the partial government shutdown reached 21 days.

“Let’s stop this shutdown now,” NASA engineer Steve Ching said to cheers at a rally near the White House, as federal workers rallied in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

“We’re all wondering, how long will our families able to hold out,” Ching said, as workers from a variety of shuttered federal agencies chanted, “Back to work!” and aimed their displeasure at President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress.

“President Trump, Senator McConnell, end this shutdown now!” thundered one union leader to cheers.

Hundreds of federal workers, contractors and supporters spilling into the street in front of the AFL-CIO building, just down the road from the White House. They’re chanting, “we want our pay!” #ShutdownProtest #DC pic.twitter.com/7v4Qt1NPey

— Marissa J. Lang (@Marissa_Jae) January 10, 2019

“People are being hurt,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). “And it’s got to end now.”

No matter where federal workers were employed, there were endless stories of concern about missing a paycheck.

“There is real stress due to the uncertainty of when it will end, and having to deal with creditors/mortgage payments/etc.,” one member of the Coast Guard told me.

While most federal workers were missing a paycheck on January 11, the Coast Guard is still paid twice a month – as they hoped something might change on the shutdown before January 15.

“Trump is determined to separate working families from paychecks for his wasteful wall,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).

All these @AFLCIO workers are asking for is to go back to work and get their paychecks. Let’s get our government back open and get these people back to work. #StopTheShutdown pic.twitter.com/iysS5Qaub8

— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) January 11, 2019

While lawmakers in both parties agreed that Congress would – as has happened in previous shutdowns – approve back pay for federal workers, it still wasn’t clear how long the funding impasse would stretch.

“If we’re out for a long period, I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing feds leaving government,” one worker told me.

House Democrats set February 7 hearing with Michael Cohen

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 20:57

A week after taking control of the U.S. House for the 116th Congress, Democrats have set their first hearing with a key figure in investigations of President Donald Trump, as a House panel will hear from Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who plead guilty last year to violating campaign finance laws in 2016 by making hush money payments to two women at the direction of the President.

“I thank Michael Cohen for agreeing to testify before the Oversight Committee voluntarily,” Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said in a written statement, as he noted the Special Counsel investigation which has involved testimony from Cohen.

“I want to make clear that we have no interest in inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations, and to that end, we are in the process of consulting with Special Counsel Mueller’s office,” Cummings added.

In his own statement, Cohen said he was ready to speak out in public.

“I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired,” said Cohen, who is scheduled to start a three year prison term in March.

Michael Cohen: "I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired.”

— Eric Tucker (@etuckerAP) January 10, 2019

Other than a handful of short of interviews, this would be the first time that Cohen has spoken out in public about his work for the President.

When he first came under legal scrutiny this year, after an FBI raid in April, Cohen said he would ‘take a bullet’ for the President – ultimately, Cohen agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in New York and the Special Counsel investigation.

Cohen has already admitted that he lied to Congress about business dealings involving the Trump Organization and Russia, as he tried to keep lawmakers from finding out that those contacts had continued deep into the 2016 campaign.

In his plea bargain agreement with the Special Counsel, Cohen admitted that he agreed to travel to Russia in connection with a “Trump Tower Moscow” project, as Cohen detailed contacts with a top aide of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Along with his testimony to the House Oversight Committee, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee still want to talk to Cohen as well.

.@RepAdamSchiff, Intel chair, says it's good Cohen is speaking to Overisight publicly but "It will be necessary, however, for Mr. Cohen to answer questions pertaining to the Russia investigation, and we hope to schedule a closed session before our committee in the near future.”

— Eliza Collins (@elizacollins1) January 10, 2019

The news about testimony from Cohen on Capitol Hill came as a federal judge ordered Special Counsel Robert Mueller to turn over – by Monday – evidence of lies allegedly told by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Earlier this week, lawyers for Manafort challenged assertions made by the Special Counsel’s Office that Manafort had lied to investigators – saying that the former Trump campaign official merely needed his memory refreshed about certain events in 2016.

Those included revelations – made public only because of a redaction mistake made by Manafort’s lawyers – that Manafort had given campaign polling data to a Russian associate with ties to Russian intelligence.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered Mueller’s team to produce evidence about five different matters, ordering the government to submit evidence by Monday on the “factual and evidentiary basis of the five alleged breaches.”

GOP sticks with Trump on border, but apprehensive on emergency declaration

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 19:28

As President Donald Trump and top Democrats in Congress pointed the finger of blame at each other on the twentieth day of a partial government shutdown, there were no signs on Capitol Hill that GOP lawmakers would abandon the President’s drive for money to build a border wall, though Republican lawmakers publicly expressed concerns about the idea of the President declaring a national emergency, in order to shift money around in the federal budget to build the wall.

“Our side is holding strong,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who along with other conservative Republicans had pressed the President for months to be more aggressive on the border wall issue.

“It’s something that we’re going to stand with the President,” said Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), who was more than ready to show off text messages from supporters back home urging Republicans in Congress not to give in.

“Vote for the wall!” Yoho read from his phone just off the House floor. “Hold out for the wall,” was another message, as rank and file Republicans stood firm on Day 20.

Democrats are acting like @realDonaldTrump only wants to build a 2,000 mile wall. Here’s the truth: President Trump's comprehensive border security plan includes 234 miles of new physical barriers, more personnel, technology, and additional resources that will #SecureOurBorder.

— Congressman Tom Rice (@RepTomRice) January 10, 2019

“President Trump cannot and will not capitulate on his promise to secure the border,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has tried with a group of other GOP Senators to come up with some kind of broader immigration deal.

“Shutdown continues, no end in sight,” Graham tweeted on Thursday afternoon.

While the President was at the border, Democrats in the Senate protested the refusal of GOP leaders to allow Senate votes on funding bills passed by the House, again blocking efforts to start work on a bipartisan foreign policy bill dealing with the Mideast.

“It really doesn’t make any sense to deal with a government shutdown by shutting down the Senate,” complained Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who for the second time this week saw action on his bill held up by Democrats.

“People are being hurt, it’s got to end, and it’s got to end now,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) to a rally of federal workers on Capitol Hill, as they demanded that the Senate act on bills to re-open those parts of the federal government which were shuttered starting on December 22.

“We love our jobs,” said Brian Ching, a NASA engineer who works at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as the crowd of union supporters chanted, “Back to work! Back to work!”

“Mr. President, end this shutdown now!” said one union leader to cheers.

Air traffic controllers are rallying on the grounds of the Capitol. pic.twitter.com/5RRPplE1E3

— Shawna Thomas (@Shawna) January 10, 2019

The union rallies came a day before some 800,000 federal workers would miss their first paycheck because of the shutdown dispute, with no sign of any negotiations between the White House and Democrats, a day after President Trump stormed out of a meeting with Democratic leaders.

“I think there is a middle ground,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who urged both sides to simply split the difference on what the President wants for a wall, and what Democrats don’t want to give, suggesting around $2.5 billion to reporters, though that number has been rejected by the President.

While President Trump was visiting the border in Texas, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with reporters, saying no decision had been made on declaring a national emergency, in which the President would unilaterally tap other funds to build a wall or other barriers without the consent of Congress.

“I have an absolute right to declare a national emergency,” the President told reporters at the White House before flying to Texas, indicating that if there’s no deal, he would likely choose that option.

President Trump: "I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency. I haven't done it yet. I may do it. If this doesn't work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely." pic.twitter.com/Zd4Xq8JvVU

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 10, 2019

But while there is strong support for the President on the wall – Republicans have notably expressed public reservations about a national emergency decision by the President, concerned by the precedent it might set, a possible legal challenge, and what monies Mr. Trump might tap for wall construction, especially if it comes from the Pentagon.

“I’m opposed to using defense dollars for non-defense purposes,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

“I adamantly opposed to the money coming from military construction,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), worried – like other lawmakers – that any move by the President to tap those accounts could put on hold construction plans at local military bases in their districts.

Even some of the President’s more vocal supporters agreed such a declaration would not be the best outcome for those in favor of a wall.

“I think there’s some concern – I believe he’s heard those – about how that power could be used by future Presidents for other reasons,” said Sen. Rubio.

“I think we should do it legislatively,” Rep. Jordan said on Thursday, “because if he (Trump) goes the emergency route, I’m convinced it’s going to wind up in court.”

In the halls of Congress, it was obvious that no deal was in the cards between Congress and the President, as the Senate left for the weekend by 2:30 pm on Thursday afternoon, while the House was passing funding bills which the White House said would be vetoed.

Away from shutdown fight, House Democrats press agenda

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 09:00

Overshadowed by the bitter political standoff over funding for border security, which has resulted in a partial government shutdown that has stretched for almost three weeks, Democrats in the House are using their new majority status to press ahead on some of their campaign promises, unveiling major legislation in recent days on ethics in government, voting rights, and gun violence, and setting the stage for action on climate change, and a variety of investigations of the Trump Administration.

“We put power back into the hands of the people,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as she helped to introduce the first major legislation of the 116th Congress, H.R. 1, a sweeping measure on voting rights.

While Democrats could certainly offer up bills on any subject in recent years, grabbing the majority in the 2018 mid-term elections will mean they can not only produce new legislation, but bring it to the floor for action.

Here’s some of the areas where House Democrats are already moving:

1. Reforms on voting, campaign finance, ethics. This 571 page bill from Democrats covers a lot of ground in terms of voting reforms, campaign fundraising changes, and new efforts on ethics in government. In fact, the bill is so comprehensive that the section-by-section summary of the measure runs for 22 pages. The voting reforms include making it easier to register to vote with automatic voter registration, making Election Day a national holiday, not requiring postage for mail-in ballots, blocking purges of voters rolls, efforts to block partisan gerrymandering, and much more. The campaign finance changes include reforms on so-called ‘dark money’ in elections, stricter rules on politcal action committees, and new processes for the Federal Election Commission. The ethics changes seek to slow the revolving door for members of Congress and lobbyists, new rules for ethics oversight in the Congress, and creates a code of ethics for the Supreme Court (there isn’t one right now). The plan would also force a President of the United States to disclose his or her tax returns.

Rep. John Lewis talking about automatic voter registration and other voting reforms in HR 1: “The vote is the most powerful non-violent way of transformation we have in our democracy.”

— Ella Nilsen (@ella_nilsen) January 4, 2019

2. Background checks on all gun sales. While the first major bill from Democrats was 571 pages, the bipartisan plan on universal background checks for gun sales runs only six pages in all. This bill would require that in all sales of guns – including private sales – that the buyer go through the instant gun sale check system. “97 percent of Americans support background checks,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), “and yet we offer thoughts and prayers instead,” as Democrats vowed they would press ahead with action on this bill within the first 100 days of 2019. The bill has five Democrats and five Republicans as the official co-sponsors, in an effort to make it bipartisan – but it still drew sharp GOP attacks. “Thankfully this nonsense isn’t going anywhere in the Senate,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), who accused Speaker Pelosi of “showboating on gun control.” Democrats though believe the atmosphere is changing in Congress when it comes to acting on guns and gun violence. We’ll see by Easter if they’re really able to bring this bill to a vote in the House – and pass it. “The purpose of this Act is to utilize the current background checks process in the United States to ensure individuals prohibited from gun possession are not able to obtain firearms,” the bill states.

Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Mike Thompson and Lucy McBath and former Rep. Gabby Giffords stand with anti-gun violence advocates to announce House Dems’ first big gun control push on background checks pic.twitter.com/7xOosKskyx

— Tal Kopan (@TalKopan) January 8, 2019

3. Climate change and environmental policy. With Republicans out of the majority in the House, Democrats will now get to do more on environmental issues; on their second day in power, they voted to set up a special panel just on climate change in the House, chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL). Also, look for Democrats to use House committees to question actions by the EPA and Interior Department on offshore oil and gas drilling, pollution regulations, Trump Administration policies on the environment, and more. Just because Democrats are in charge doesn’t mean they can force the President to change his policies – but the basic function of oversight will generate headlines and put top Trump officials on the spot at hearings in the Congress in 2019 and 2020.

.@SpeakerPelosi is right: climate change is an existential threat. With the new Congress seated, we can get to work on bold legislation like the #GreenNewDeal. I look forward to working w/ the Speaker & all of my colleagues who recognize the urgent need for transformative action. pic.twitter.com/L01kohKAie

— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) January 3, 2019

4. Priming the pump on investigations. While there has been a lot of talk about the Democrats investigating everything imaginable in the Trump Administration, the work of House committees takes a little time to get going in a new Congress, especially with the change in leadership. Democrats have tried to get the Acting Attorney General in for a hearing, but have faced resistance, so now the House Judiciary Committee has told Matthew Whitaker to show up by January 29 for a hearing, as Whitaker evidently wanted to wait to testify until two weeks after the end of the current partial government shutdown. “I cannot accept your proposal,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who will be one of the prime point men for Democrats in 2019 in terms of Congressional oversight. More hearings – and subpoenas – are coming.

Nadler sends Whitaker a letter demanding he testify by January 29 — as we reported last night Nadler is threatening a subpoena if Whitaker won't voluntarily appear pic.twitter.com/PGW2mgyAs9

— Jeremy Herb (@jeremyherb) January 9, 2019

5. Waiting on Mueller report, Democrats to press on Russia. The new Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), has already made clear that Democrats will likely recall some witnesses, convinced that Republicans didn’t push hard enough for answers on possible Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and any ties to the Trump campaign. There were already reports on Wednesday that the first person to get a subpoena would be Donald Trump Jr., as panel member Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) gave that answer during a book signing event in Washington. Schiff has already said he’ll make transcripts of earlier interviews available to the Mueller investigation, giving the Special Counsel extra information to review. The Russia investigation is not going away with the Democrats in charge of the House.

As more information is revealed about the Trump’s campaign’s relationship with the Russians, it makes protecting the Mueller investigation that much more imperative. The American people deserve the facts. https://t.co/uwgMDN3afM

— Rep. Suzan DelBene (@RepDelBene) January 9, 2019

NO DEAL: President Trump walks out of White House shutdown talks

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 21:11

A day after addressing the nation on the need for more money to deal with border security, President Donald Trump walked out of a meeting at the White House with top Democratic leaders, after they again rejected his call for Congress to approve money to build a wall along the border with Mexico, a plan that President repeatedly promised during the 2016 campaign would be paid for by the Mexican government.

“The President just got up and walked out,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, who told reporters outside the West Wing of the White House that Mr. Trump was angered by the refusal of Democrats to give in on his demands for wall money.

“He asked Speaker Pelosi, ‘Will you agree to my wall?’ she said, no,” Schumer told reporters. “And he just got up, and said ‘Then we have nothing to discuss,’ and just walked out.”

Schumer says Trump “just got up and walked out” of a meeting with him and Pelosi because they didn't agree to a border wall.

“Again we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way” pic.twitter.com/029snPQKmk

— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) January 9, 2019

Democrats have held fast to their refusal to agree to any money for a border wall – while Republicans say it must be part of any plan to combat illegal immigration along the southern border, as on Day 19 of the partial government shutdown, there seems to be no middle ground to end this dispute.

In a tweet, President Trump confirmed what Democrats told reporters – that he left the meeting after being told by Pelosi that Democrats would not agree to Mr. Trump’s call for money to fund a border wall.

The President labeled the meeting a ‘total waste of time,’ as Republicans accused Democrats of not bargaining in good faith – Democrats say they won’t negotiate details of funding for border security until the government has been fully re-opened, while the President says he won’t re-open the government until he knows he’s getting money for the wall.

That led to fireworks in the White House Situation Room.

Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time. I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2019

The dustup came as the House was starting votes on a series of spending bills – all of which had been designed by Senators in both parties last year – in a bid to re-open the federal government.

While GOP leaders ridiculed the process, vowing not to vote on those bills in the Senate, more Republicans began to say they would support the measures, because of pressure from back home to fully open up the government.

Earlier, the President met with GOP Senators at the Capitol, and sent them a clear message.

“Stick together,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

But there were dissenting voices, as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and others said keeping the government closed was not the right choice.

How does it end? @repdonyoung says he'll "probably" vote w Dems to pass 6 spending bills this week. If enough Rs cross over, it raises the White House's "biggest fear": a veto override in House. "And that could happen. So I think that compromise will come forth."

— Liz Ruskin (@lruskin) January 9, 2019

800,000 federal workers are either on furlough or are being forced to work without pay at this point – many are scheduled to get a paycheck this Friday – but that seems unlikely.

On Capitol Hill, there was speculation that the failure of the talks would lead the President to declare a ‘national emergency,’ and attempt to move money around in the defense budget to fund the construction of some of the wall.

While a number of Republicans oppose that plan, such a declaration could give cover to Republicans in the House and Senate to then vote to re-open the government, and end the partial shutdown.

Trump orders FEMA to block wildfire disaster aid for California

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 16:36

Again accusing the state of California of not doing enough to prevent wildfires on forest lands, President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced that he was ordering federal emergency officials not to give any more disaster relief to the Golden State to deal with damage from wildfires, drawing a swift rebuke from Democrats in the Congress.

“Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money,” the President wrote in a tweet, as he characterized California’s anti-wildfire efforts as ‘disgraceful.’

It was not immediately apparent what pushed the President to order FEMA – which is currently under a partial government shutdown – to stop disaster aid for California, which was ravaged in 2018 by several particularly intense wildfires.

“This deserves a 5-star award for idiocy,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said of the President’s tweet, while the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom chided the President on Twiter as well.

Disasters and recovery are no time for politics. I’m already taking action to modernize and manage our forests and emergency responses.

The people of CA — folks in Paradise — should not be victims to partisan bickering.

— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) January 9, 2019

Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2019

It’s not the first time the President has thrown verbal barbs at California – even during wildfire events – as he has accused the state government of following ‘bad environmental laws’ and not properly ‘raking and cleaning’ forests, which he said is done successfully in Finland – a statement which drew widespread mockery from Democrats.

California officials have pointed out repeatedly to the President that the state manages just two to three percent of the forest lands in the Golden State – while the federal government is responsible for over half of those lands.

“Californians endured the deadliest wildfire in our state’s history last year,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who said the President was wrong to “play politics by threatening to withhold money from survivors of a deadly natural disaster.”

“This is absolutely shameful,” said Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) of the President’s announcement. “While communities like Paradise are still struggling with multi-billion dollar recovery efforts the President withholds funding for petty political gains. Where is his empathy?”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – who leads the California delegation, which is now 45 Democrats to 7 Republicans – swiftly denounced the President’s threat.

.@POTUS seems to have forgotten, yet again, that The federal government manages 57 percent of the forests in California. The state manages 2 percent. Private owners are responsible for 39 percent. Maybe this colorful map can help! #FactCheckTrump pic.twitter.com/vVDiEfR7x2

— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) January 9, 2019

.@realDonaldTrump’s threat insults the memory of scores of Americans who perished in wildfires last year & thousands more who lost their homes. @GOPLeader must join me to condemn & call on POTUS to reassure millions in CA that our govt will be there for them in their time of need https://t.co/YZJQug9zh0

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) January 9, 2019

The President’s latest volley at the state of California comes after a disastrous mid-term election for Republicans in the Golden State, where Democrats picked up seven U.S. House seats, including a historic sweep of seats in Orange County, once the home of conservative Republicans in the state.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), whose district suffered devastating damage during the most recent Paradise fire, said he was surprised by the President’s tweet, saying it came out of ‘left field.’

“Cutting off money for FEMA isn’t the right approach,” LaMalfa told reporters, though he said he agreed with the President’s desire to force change in how the state of California deals with forest management.

“If you want to cut off money, cut off money for stupid things like high speed rail,” LaMalfa added.