TRUMP BACKS AWAY FROM EMERGENCY DECLARATION
WaPo: “President Trump on Friday threw cold water on the idea of immediately declaring a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, reversing days of signals that he might soon declare the emergency amid a protracted standoff with Democrats over a partial shutdown of the federal government. ‘What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,’ he said Friday afternoon, surrounded by law enforcement officials at a White House roundtable. ‘I’m not going to do it so fast.’ The president has defiantly said for days he might declare a national emergency to expedite construction of the wall — and his administration has asked agencies to begin preparations. But he has gotten sharp pushback, even from Republicans, at the notion of declaring such an emergency. His lawyers have privately warned that he could be on shaky footing with such a move, according to people familiar with the discussions.”
Shutdown woes pile up as stoppage approaches longest in history – Fox News: “The impact of the partial government shutdown intensified on Friday, as hundreds of thousands of federal workers missed their first paychecks since the funding lapse last month — a situation putting rising pressure on Congress and the White House to reach an agreement to re-open shuttered agencies. … Most workers were issued their last paycheck two weeks ago, and it is unclear if and when they will receive the next. Some federal workers have had to apply for unemployment benefits and take out loans to stay afloat; while others have had to cancel trips and scale back spending in other ways. Statistics provided by the Department of Labor showed that 4,760 federal employees filed for unemployment benefits in the last week of December, an increase of 3,831 from the 929 who applied the week before.”
House Republicans start cracking – Roll Call: “The number of House Republicans supporting Democrats’ bills to reopen the government increased slightly on Thursday. On Thursday, the House voted 244-180 to pass a Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development spending bill and 243-183 to pass an Agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal 2019. The votes come after the House passed a Financial Services spending bill on Wednesday. A vote on an Interior-Environment appropriations bill is planned for Friday. The Senate has no plans to hold a vote on any of the bills.”
Inscrutable as ever, McConnell holds cards close – McClatchy: “Mitch McConnell, uncharacteristically absent from deliberations as the shutdown approached the three-week mark, suddenly emerged as a player Thursday. But only for a few hours… McConnell had hosted a group of GOP senators in his office Thursday morning to discuss a compromise to break the impasse, but the White House quickly rejected the proposal. … McConnell … [spoke] on the phone with Trump, who agreed to legislation guaranteeing furloughed government employees would be compensated ‘to ease their anxiety’ as the shutdown continues. The partial shutdown is due to reach its 21st day Friday, tying the record set in 1996. What’s not known is whether McConnell will gather members into his office again to discuss strategies or do as he’s done the past three weeks, which is eviscerate Democrats on the Senate floor for refusing to give Trump $5.7 billion for his border wall and otherwise wait for Democrats and Trump to broker a deal.”
THE RULEBOOK: SO YOU GOTTA ACKRITE
“In a monarchy [good behavior] is an excellent barrier to the despotism of the prince; in a republic it is a no less excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 78
TIME OUT: NO FOG ON THE MOUNTAIN TODAY
Time: “Google honored banjo-picking bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs with its Google Doodle on Friday. Scruggs, who pioneered a musical style known as the ‘Scruggs style’ which became integral to bluegrass, died in 2012 at age 88. The animated Doodle shows off Scruggs’ fingerpicking playing style. Google’s Doodle was timed to celebrate the anniversary of the 2014 opening of the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, N.C. The Scruggs Center is dedicated to celebrating Scuggs’ life and helping to educate people about the North Carolina musical traditions that gave rise to Scruggs’ talent. Scruggs’ son, Gary, told Google: ‘Even though my father, Earl Scruggs, passed away before the Earl Scruggs Center opened, he was involved in its planning stages. It was important for him that the Earl Scruggs Center would serve as more than a museum displaying interesting artifacts and memorabilia, but as an educational facility as well.’”
BROWN OUT TO IOWA
Politico: “Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is preparing the biggest step yet toward a potential presidential campaign: a trip to Iowa in the coming weeks, which is in the final stages of planning and will soon be announced, according to four people with knowledge of the trip. Going to Iowa would be the latest signal from Brown and his wife, Connie Schultz, that he is considering a White House run organized around the ‘dignity of work,’ the theme of his reelection campaign last year. But preparations go beyond public statements as Brown’s longtime aide and current chief of staff, Sarah Benzing works backstage to set up a campaign — with a particular focus on Iowa, where she grew up and worked on a series of congressional, Senate and presidential efforts earlier in her career. … And she has spent the weeks since Brown’s reelection to the Senate … calling her Iowa network, seeking advice and operatives to staff a Brown presidential bid.”
Gillibrand looks for upstate cred with campaign headquarters – [Albany] Times Union: “Campaign representatives for Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand signed a lease for a 5,000 square foot space in downtown Troy, according to a local Democratic operative — a sign the recently re-elected Albany native could be basing a presidential campaign in the Capital Region. It was unclear which building the space is located in, and Gillibrand, who lives in the Troy suburb of Brunswick, has not officially announced she would run in the 2020 presidential race. But a Troy-based headquarters would be a nod to Gillibrand’s familial roots in the area, which she represented in Congress before winning a Senate seat in 2010.”
Inslee faces grumbling at home about his possible run – The Spokesman Review: “Despite adding trips to New Hampshire and Nevada to his January schedule, Gov. Jay Inslee pushed back Thursday against suggestions he won’t have his full attention on Washington when the Legislature starts next Monday. ‘I have a fantastic story to tell, and that’s the story of Washington state,’ Inslee said of his plans to speak at events around the country. He hasn’t officially announced a run, but is exploring adding his name to a growing pool seeking the Democratic nomination. This weekend he will be the keynote speaker to a conference of progressive activists in Nevada. On Jan. 22, he will talk about fighting climate change to two colleges in New Hampshire. He has registered a political action committee, the Vision PAC, with the Federal Election Committee and started accepting contributions.”
Which Republicans might run against Trump in 2020? Too soon to say – WashEx: “Renegade Republicans intent on upending President Trump in 2020 are keeping their powder dry, waiting to see if legal and political controversies drive him from office first. …Republicans who oppose Trump’s re-election are eyeing June as the approximate moment for deciding on a primary challenge or independent bid. It’s a strategic delay. Some Republicans think the weight of multiple investigations could motivate the president to exit the White House after one term — especially if special counsel Robert Mueller issues a politically damaging report. … The Republicans most often listed as possible Trump challengers are outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran in 2016; Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who is up for re-election next year; Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah … Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan; and former Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who sources say are unlikely to run.”
Manchin considering returning to W.Va. for gubernatorial run – W. Va. Metro News: “U.S. Senator Joe Manchin is once again considering running for Governor of West Virginia, according to several people who are familiar with the Senator’s thinking. When asked Friday about his interest in the governor’s race, Manchin fired a shot across [Jim] Justice’s bow. ‘The state of West Virginia deserves and needs a full-time governor,’ he said. Manchin is already getting calls about 2020, some from Democrats who themselves are thinking about running for Governor and want to know his plans and some from West Virginians encouraging him to run. Also, he could run for Governor while continuing to serve in the Senate. … [T]he idea keeps surfacing and the dynamism of the legislative session that just started in Charleston is far more appealing to him than the protracted partial shutdown that’s now gripping Washington.”
HOUSE GOP LEADERS, IOWA GOVERNOR SHUN KING
WaPo: “House Republican leaders on Thursday stepped forward to criticize Rep. Steve King for defending white nationalism… King, who won a ninth term in Congress in November, lamented in an interview with the New York Times that the term had become a pejorative one. ‘White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?’ King said in the interview, which was published Thursday. King later issued a statement in which he sought to walk back his remarks. He said he rejects ‘those labels and the evil ideology that they define’ and proclaimed himself ‘simply a Nationalist.’ … And Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who backed King during the last campaign and appeared with him on the campaign trail, has said she will not endorse him this time, telling an NBC affiliate in Des Moines that ‘the last election was a wake-up call for it to be that close.’”
GINSBURG TO MISS NEXT WEEK’S SUPCO SESSIONS
Fox News: “Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will miss next week’s court sessions and work from home, but her recovery from early-stage lung cancer surgery remains ‘on track’ and no further treatment is needed, the court announced Friday. … ‘Post-surgery evaluation indicates no evidence of remaining disease, and no further treatment is required,’ [Supreme Court public information officer Kathy Arberg said in a statement]. The 85-year-old’s absence this week from oral arguments — her first since joining the bench — after her surgery in December sparked speculation about a possible departure, and even led to low-key planning by the White House for that scenario. Sources confirmed to Fox News that the White House has quietly reached out to a small number of GOP lawmakers and conservative legal advocates, reassuring them it would be ready for any court vacancy.”
Barr looks to assuage Senate Dems’ Mueller worries – WaPo: “Attorney general nominee William P. Barr tried Thursday to assuage Senate Democrats’ concerns he might be too biased to oversee the special counsel’s Russia probe, but lawmakers said they would need to hear his answers under oath before they could consider backing his nomination. … Barr has been facing questions from Democrats and Republicans about his previous statements regarding Mueller’s probe, particularly a 2018 memo blasting Mueller for examining whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice in his decision to fire James B. Comey from his post as FBI director. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), another committee member, said that during his meeting with Barr, he asked the nominee to prepare before Tuesday ‘a complete, thorough and accurate description of what led to his Mueller memo.’”
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“In the past, I have assailed you with modest proposals to which you have responded that you are far more optimistic than I about America’s public institutions and future. However, in your latest missive, I sense a growing cynicism or perhaps a new assessment regarding where America is heading: ‘Like many great civilizations before us, America is slouching toward authoritarianism. Democracies tend toward kingship in almost every case since charismatic leaders and demagogues are so successful at deceiving voters by appealing to emotion rather than reason.’ I think you are correct as far as you have gone. What you seem unaware of or unwilling to recognize is that, even though the sample of democracies is perhaps too small to draw a conclusion, ‘voters’ appear to get what they collectively want, have worked hard to get, and/or deserve in some inexplicable way from their leaders.” – Eric Hutchins, Santa Barbara, Calif.
[Ed. note: I guess I must have gotten a little too crabby sounding about our pitiful Congress, Mr. Hutchins! I remain highly optimistic about our future. Not to be too self-promotional but the book I wrote last year was about that very idea. We have had much closer brushes with authoritarianism in our past. We have also had periods of much deeper chaos, including a period between the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the American defeat in Vietnam in 1975. It has been worse before and in the not too distant past. We can do this and I believe the current trials and tribulations will result, as they did before, in a renewal of our commitment to republicanism and democracy.]
“Dear Sir, As an ever-increasingly frustrated member of the sane middle, your commentary regarding the president’s ability to declare an emergency and Congress’s sudden abhorrence of the power they gave him hit all my sweet spots. But what do you think the chances are that: A) Republicans will denounce it if it happens? B) Democrats who denounce it if it happens will, in turn, denounce it if their future president attempts it? I suspect the answer to both is nil.” – Jeffrey L. Greek, Jacksonville, Fla.
[Ed. note: I tend to disagree, Mr. Greek. I think there are lots of Republicans in Congress who would come hard against the president for such a broad overreach of executive power. And I think that goes for Democrats in the future. Whatever one thinks of our current political moment, there is no doubt that we are awake and alive to the possibility of darker, weirder things that could lay ahead.]
“Thanks for your comments on the current ‘emergency,’ but I think that your analysis is a bit off. While it may seem true that ‘[d]emocracies tend toward kingship in almost every case since charismatic leaders and demagogues are so successful at deceiving voters by appealing to emotion rather than reason,’ in fact, as the end of the Roman Republic shows, such a tendency occurs when the legislative body (e.g., the Senate) abdicates its power—which it need not do. Today, we see our legislative branch interested in everything except legislating—which activity the executive and judicial branches are happy to take up. Puzzling and heartbreaking.” – Jim Voelz, Fort Wayne, Ind.
[Ed. note: So why is it that you think that legislative bodies advocate their powers? Voters preference for authoritarianism. Liberal democracy of our kind is messy, complicated and asks a great deal of citizens. Dictators ask much less of the governed, at least until they start the long, inevitable march toward oppression. Congress has not devolved its powers irrationally. It’s hard to get re-elected if you address difficult questions. It’s hard to raise money from powerful interests if you are independent and honest. Ceding issues that are likely to upset primary voters and donors to the other two branches takes the pressure off. The rise of authoritarianism logically follows. I’d submit the two are closely correlated.]
“Do not forget Abe Lincoln. He confiscated funds designated for another expenditure to use for war preparations without Congress’ consent. He suspended habeas corpus without the consent of Congress. He signed an arrest warrant for Chief Justice Roger Taney because Justice Taney told him he could not suspend habeas corpus without the consent of Congress. The U. S. Marshall refused to serve it. Lincoln ordered the arrest of members of the Maryland legislature suspected of being southern sympathizers. He sent troops to arrest Missouri’s legislators. He summoned the state militias without consent of Congress that resulted in the secession of Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. He arrested 13,000 without ever charging them. He sent federal troops fresh off the battlefield at Gettysburg to quell the riots of the Irish in New York City shooting them down in the streets. Before we talk of Wilson, Roosevelt, Nixon or Trump, discuss the originator of the empirical presidency. Of course, you can say that was a real emergency. It was, but he could have called a special session of Congress like Roosevelt did after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but he did not.” – Bill Billips, Palm Harbor, Fla.
[Ed. note: I will not nitpick your condemnatory descriptions of Lincoln’s extra-constitutional activities as president. I take your basic point that he did exceed the boundaries of presidential authority, even in the creation of my home state of West Virginia. But suggesting that somehow Lincoln did not work through Congress in prosecuting the Civil War or that he lacked congressional authorization goes too far. I would also point out that the Constitution explicitly grants the president special powers in a time of domestic insurrection. There are many who seek to diminish Lincoln’s legacy by casting him as some sort of despot, but that tends to either be sour grapes among still-unreconstructed Southerners or hot take aficionados. Lincoln’s love for the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is evident. When he was visited by a delegation of powerful American leaders who had participated in a peace conference in Washington prior to his inauguration, Lincoln was urged to accommodate the demands of the secessionists. As described by one who was there, Lincoln calmly, clearly told the men lecturing him: “I will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. … It is not the Constitution as I would like to have it, but as it is, that is to be defended. The Constitution will not be preserved and defended until it is enforced and obeyed in every part of every one of the United States. It must be so respected, obeyed, enforced and defended, and let the grass grow where it may.” And that was an 1861 version of a mic drop.]
“I thought when my children matured that I was through with childishness; but now I am witness to the most disgustingly childish behavior imaginable. (Modesty forbids me describing what I really think of all 535 of them.) If ever there was a valid argument for term limits this is it. Misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance. How can they be brought to trial?” – Dick Carden, Richmond, Va.
[Ed. note: It is said that pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth, and I think that applies to political reform as well. Perhaps we have not yet hurt badly, deeply or long enough to be ready to embrace substantive changes to our system. Issue-based arguments are becoming increasingly fruitless because the larger mechanisms that make up our constitutional process are breaking down. There is a time coming, I believe, when people across the political spectrum will embrace the concept of systemic reform rather than narrow ideological combat.]
“Quick question for you: How did Nancy Pelosi manage to get herself elected Speaker of the House once again? My understanding is/was that you need to receive a majority to win … 218 votes of the 435 total; but I caught part of a report on the radio wherein a pundit was stating (I think) that she received less than 218 and even had to have some Reps abstain from voting in order to have enough votes to win. Is this true? Can you win with less than 218? And if so, exactly how close was her ‘by the skin of her teeth’ victory anyway?” – Bob Nelson, Norwell, Mass.
[Ed. note: Good question, Mr. Nelson. You don’t need any particular number to win the speakership, you just need a majority of the entire House. That number was not 218 this time because of some vacancies. Pelosi did lose some Democratic support. Fifteen members of the Blue Team did not vote for her. She ended up getting 220 votes, winning with three to spare.]