Sound the siren
Where there's a will, but no wall, there's still a way.
That's the new promise President Donald Trump will make to his "build the wall" faithful upon signing the bill to avert a government shutdown, as the White House assures he will. The compromise provides only a pittance — $1.375 billion — for new barriers along the border with Mexico, which isn't paying anything, even though Trump once promised it would pay for it all.
A relieved shutdown-wary Senate voted 83-16 to move the legislation along, and the House followed suit, 300-128. When the Senate convened Thursday morning, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) offered an amendment to the chaplain's prayer: “Let’s all pray that the president will have wisdom to sign the bill so government doesn’t shut down."
No worries, said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who last month told an interviewer that God chose Trump to lead America. “President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border," she said. An announcement was set for 10 a.m. Friday.
The hope is that such declaration would allow him to use military funds to help him build his wall. But he would first have to overcome court battles, legislative challenges by Democrats and misgivings by some Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acquiesced to the emergency option despite past opposition, but other GOP senators voiced doubts about going along. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned it could set a precedent for a Democratic president to bypass Congress on issues like gun violence.
The hard-right commentators who goaded Trump into the 35-day shutdown were divided. Rush Limbaugh, seeing no gain from an encore, said, "Trump is going to have to engage and rely on incremental steps between now and 2020." Ann Coulter cried betrayal: "No 'emergency' or presidential powers will allow him to build the wall, ever, after he signs this bill. Trump has just agreed to fully open borders." For more, see Newsday's story by Tom Brune and Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
From McCabe to Mueller
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, in an excerpt from a CBS "60 Minutes" interview, said that after his boss James Comey was fired, he moved quickly to keep the investigation into Trump's ties to Russia from being shut down. The end result after several days of discussions was the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
McCabe, who had been temporarily in charge of the bureau, said he wanted to make sure that if he got shoved aside, "the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace." McCabe, who is promoting a book, also said Justice Department officials had discussed bringing in Cabinet members to consider using the Constitution's 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
A Justice statement said Thursday that Rosenstein, previously reported to have been part of that discussion, removed McCabe from the investigation and put it under Mueller instead.
Trump reacted with attack tweets on McCabe as a "disgrace to the FBI and a disgrace to our Country," again calling the Russia probe a "hoax." Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump allies accused McCabe of trying to organize a "coup."
A section from McCabe's book published by The Atlantic Thursday derided Trump as "a deliberate liar who will say whatever he pleases to get whatever he wants." McCabe was fired last year after an inspector general's report said he lied about a disclosure to news media.
Trump swore in William Barr as his new attorney general Thursday after the Senate voted 54-45, largely along partisan lines, to confirm him.
Democrats remain concerned about Barr's noncommittal stance on making Mueller's report public. Barr promised to be as transparent as possible but said he will follow Justice Department regulations.
Trump's relations with the Justice Department turned toxic when Barr's predecessor, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation because of questions about his own Russia contacts while serving Trump's 2016 campaign.
Janison: Where there's smoke . . .
If there's ever going to be a movie about the Russia investigation, the set designers now have another venue to recreate besides the Trump Tower meeting room where Donald Trump Jr. entertained Russians bearing dirt.
A midtown Manhattan cigar bar, the Grand Havana Room, was the venue where Paul Manafort handed off Trump campaign polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate linked to Russian intelligence.
Coincidentally, the roster of Grand Havana regulars includes Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Trump-impersonating actor Alec Baldwin. The office building where it's located, 666 Fifth Ave., is owned by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner's family real estate business.
In the weeks after the Parkland, Florida, high school massacre, Trump spoke about considering gun-control measures, but except for a ban on bump stocks for rapid-firing, he backed off.
In statements to mark Thursday's anniversary of the killings, Trump said: “Melania and I join all Americans in praying for the continued healing of those in the Parkland community and all communities where lives have been lost to gun violence.” But a version of the statement issued hours later changed “gun violence" to “school violence,” The Washington Post noted.
The Democratic-majority House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a bill to require background checks for all sales and transfers of firearms and sent the legislation to the full House.
Gone to waist
Trump gained 4 pounds in the past year, weighing in at 243, which puts him within the technical definition for obesity. The number comes from a report from Trump on the annual physical exam he underwent last week.
His doctor for last year's physical, Ronny Jackson, said they set a goal for Trump to lose 10 to 15 pounds. That didn't happen. But Trump's current doctor, Sean Conley, nonetheless determined that the 6-foot-3 president "remains in very good health overall," in a memorandum released by the White House on Thursday.
His blood pressure was good and his cholesterol levels were better, but the president is getting put on a higher dose of anti-cholesterol medication.
What else is happening:
- Besides trashing Trump, McCabe's book scathes Sessions as a small-minded bigot, according to The Washington Post. He quotes Sessions as complaining that the FBI was better off when "you all only hired Irishmen . . . They were drunks but they could be trusted. Not like all those new people with nose rings and tattoos — who knows what they’re doing?”
- Another McCabe bomblet in the Post story: Trump refused to believe U.S. intelligence reports that Kim Jong Un had test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017 because Vladimir Putin had told him North Korea did not have such a capability.
- Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are abandoning plans to launch two new hotel lines in dozens of cities, The New York Times reported. They complain the family name has suffered the wrong kind of branding. “We live in a climate where everything will be used against us, whether by the fake news or by Democrats," a statement from Eric said.
- The Homeland Security Department has drastically reduced the sizes of its task forces for fighting foreign election interference, the Daily Beast reports. DHS says they will be bringing new people aboard for election security work.
- Democrats have set for qualifying rules for the party's first presidential debates, which start in June, and there are two ways to get in. Score at least 1% in three meaningful polls, or show donations from 65,000 people in at least 20 states.
- Victoria Gotti, daughter of the late mob boss John Gotti, said Trump once told her: “Your dad and I, we’ve been in each other’s company. We know a lot of the same people.” Her recollection came up while talking to The New York Times about her film, book and reality TV work.