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Ire and fury after Trump immigration position hardens

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifies during a

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifies during a hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

Exit Jekyll, enter Hyde?

As two senators tell it, there was more that went bad in that stormy White House meeting on immigration than expletives flying across the Oval Office.

Following up on the cordial as-seen-on-TV negotiations Jan. 9, where Trump urged a “bill of love,” Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) went back to the White House two days later for more talks with Trump on their bipartisan proposal.

They were surprised to find themselves outnumbered by hard-liners hurriedly summoned by like-minded Trump aides, The Washington Post reported. Trump turned hostile.

“I don’t think the president was well-served by his staff,” Graham said Tuesday. In the first meeting, Graham said, “We had a president that I was proud to golf with, call my friend, who understood immigration had to be bipartisan. ... I don’t know where that guy went. I want him back.”

Durbin singled out policy aide Steven Miller: “Any effort to kill immigration reform usually has Mr. Miller’s fingerprints on it.”

Graham appealed to lawmakers and the White House to focus on a deal to avoid a government shutdown and protect the young immigrants covered by DACA. See Newsday’s story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Behind the words

The argument over the word Trump used to describe countries like Haiti and those in Africa remained heated. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insisted she didn’t hear “shithole,” but conceded it might have been said.

She didn’t “dispute the president was using tough language” and said “almost everyone” in the room was using profanity.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) wasn’t buying it. “When ignorance and bigotry are allied with power, it is a dangerous force in our country. Your silence and your amnesia is complicity,” he told Nielsen.

Nielsen and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump wasn’t expressing a racist disdain for immigrants from countries with black majorities and a preference for Europeans. “He’d like to move away from a country-based quota system to a merit-based quota system,” Nielsen said.

“I want them to come in from everywhere,” Trump told reporters during a White House event.

Janison: Brinkmanship

While Republicans hold the White House and both houses of Congress, that won’t be enough to stop a government shutdown without getting Democrats on board, too.

That feat is looking harder amid the bitter breakdown of talks on DACA and immigration as Democrats continue to accuse Trump of racism. Trump and some Republicans are eager to blame the Democrats if there is no agreement to let the government keep spending. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

DACA dangling

In an unusual move, the Justice Department is seeking to bypass an appeals court and ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a district judge’s ruling temporarily blocking Trump’s decision to end protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants.

The administration said in September it plans to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program unless there is a deal with Congress to preserve it. It is demanding other immigration law changes and border wall funding in return.

Nielsen said on “CBS This Morning” that even if the program to protect the dreamers ends, “It’s not going to be a priority of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to prioritize their removal.”

The less Trump, the better

Navy Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician, said Trump has accepted his recommendation to lose 10 to 15 pounds over the next year through diet, and, less enthusiastically, to exercise.

Trump’s overall health is “excellent,” said the doctor. Asked how the 71-year-old president has remained free of health problems despite appetites for KFC, Big Macs and other fast food, and his aversion to exercise, Jackson said, “It’s called genetics.”

Jackson joked: “I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old.”

At Trump’s request, he underwent a cognitive test during his medical exam last week, and got a perfect score, said Jackson, who indicated the president was eager to put to rest speculation about his mental fitness.

Jackson was also White House physician for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Veterans of those administrations vouched for his credibility.

Checking Bannon’s privilege

A House Intelligence committee session with former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon bogged down over questions about whether he could invoke executive privilege to avoid questions about his time on the transition team and in the White House.

The panel wants to ask Bannon about Trump’s thinking when he fired FBI Director James Comey, The Associated Press reported.

Bannon, cast out from Trump’s world after his comments to “Fire and Fury” author Michael Wolff, has been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury in the Russia investigation, The New York Times reported.

What else is happening

  • A revelation from White House physician Jackson, if not a surprise: Trump takes Propecia to combat hair loss.
  • North Korea’s state-run media said Trump’s Jan. 3 tweet about having a bigger nuclear button than leader Kim Jong Un’s is the “spasm of a lunatic.” Reminder: Trump’s boast came after Kim said in a speech, “a nuclear button is always on my desk.”
  • Accidental deaths spiked in the U.S., fueled by opioid overdoses, as it remains uncertain how the federal government might respond, NPR reports.
  • Are Trump’s “Fake News Awards” going to be unveiled on Wednesday, the deadline he set after rescheduling them from last week? Press secretary Sanders called it a “potential event.”
  • True news is fake news? A new Gallup-Knight Foundation survey found 42% of Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be “fake news.” The corresponding figure for Democrats is 17%.
  • The trials of former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates may begin in September or October, becoming a backdrop for the fall midterm election campaigns.
  • Some current and former law enforcement officials worry that the Justice Department’s decision to give Trump-allied congressional Republicans access to documents about FBI investigations risks exposing sensitive sources or material, Bloomberg News reports.
  • A former CIA officer has been arrested. Jerry Chun Shing Lee is suspected of giving up informants and helping China dismantle U.S. spying operations.

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