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The Trump-Pelosi shutdown showdown is becoming the spite of the century

An Air Force bus intended for members of

An Air Force bus intended for members of Congress sits outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Thursday.  Credit: Bloomberg/Andrew Harrer

Can't get wall, can get even

She rules the House, at least for the next two years. He commands the planes, at least for the next two years. And so each has found a weapon to use against the other from a government staggered by record-length partial shutdown and a stalemate on border security.

President Donald Trump retaliated Thursday against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi  for telling him to postpone the State of the Union speech he has been scheduled to deliver to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 29. Trump ordered the Air Force to cancel her planned but unannounced trip to visit troops in Afghanistan and NATO officials on a stopover in Brussels.

"It would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown," Trump wrote Pelosi. (Read the letter here.)

The White House and Republicans in Congress complained that a reason Pelosi gave for putting off Trump's speech — that the shutdown would impede security arrangements — was specious. Not specious: concerns that the president compromised Pelosi's safety on a planned trip to a war zone. "If you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative," Trump snarked. 

Denying military aircraft to a senior lawmaker is rare. Revealing an itinerary that had been kept secret for security reasons is unheard of

"I think the president's decision to disclose a trip the speaker's making to a war zone was completely and utterly irresponsible in every way," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), one of the House Democrats also going on the trip. They were on an Air Force bus outside the Capitol waiting to depart when Trump called it off.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) charged, "This is the president essentially being a man-baby.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), seeking the role of an adult in the room, tried to be more evenhanded. He called Pelosi's move against Trump "very irresponsible and blatantly political," but Trump's response "also inappropriate." Said Graham: "One sophomoric response does not deserve another."

Janison: Mitch in the middle

How does this end? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell never wanted the shutdown. He had agreed with Democrats last month to keep funding the government, but Trump sandbagged him at the last minute by declaring he wouldn't sign a bill without $5.6 billion in wall money.

McConnell's crew could tell the president at some point that Senate Republicans have held out long enough and let legislation to reopen the government go through. But so far, he is still standing with Trump. See Dan Janison's column for Newsday.

The rig is up 

Michael Cohen, the deposed Trump fixer, admits he hired a tech firm in 2015 to try to rig clickbait online polls in his boss' favor. Cohen said was told to do it by Trump, who has a history of crying "rigged" when more authoritative polls are unfavorable to him.

"What I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of @realDonaldTrump @POTUS," Cohen tweeted after The Wall Street Journal broke the story. "I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it." 

Well, maybe not for the sole benefit of Trump. He also had the tech firm create a Twitter account called "Women for Cohen" with posts that gushed how the Long Island-born lawyer was a "sex symbol," a "stud" and even a paragon of virtue: "In a world of lies, deception, and fraud, we appreciate this honest guy @MichaelCohen212 #tgif #handsome #sexy."

The poll manipulation didn't work. The tech firm chief, John Gauger, said he only got paid $12,000 to $13,000 — stuffed into a Walmart bag — of a promised $50,000, though Cohen got reimbursed for the full amount by the Trump Organization, according to the Journal. Cohen has been sentenced to 3 years in prison for campaign-finance violations, tax evasion, lying to Congress and other charges.

This could be trouble

Law enforcement officials tell BuzzFeed that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Trump also gave Cohen a green light on a plan to visit Russia during the presidential campaign to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations, the report said. Before the plan fell through, BuzzFeed's sources said, Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. were kept in the loop.

It's not just Cohen's story now, according to BuzzFeed — special counsel Robert Mueller's office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged it to Mueller's investigators.

'No collusion,' much confusion

Rudy Giuliani wanted to clarify his remarks on CNN Wednesday night in which he maintained while there was no collusion by Trump, he had "never said there was no collusion" between Russia and members of Trump's 2016 White House campaign.

"My statements on collusion haven’t changed. The misinterpretation has changed," he tweeted. Then Giuliani told The Associated Press: "I can only speak of what I know, and that is that I have no knowledge that anyone on the campaign illegally colluded with Russia. But I can only speak definitively about the president, as he is my client."

What's the difference? Not much. What has changed — a lot, as a Washington Post timeline notes — are the original denials that there were even contacts between the campaign and Russians to the serial equivocations as evidence to the contrary has continued to pile up, including Donald Trump Jr.'s Trump Tower meeting and Paul Manafort's sharing of campaign polling data with a Russian intelligence-linked associate.

More family separations bared

Thousands more migrant children may have been split from their parents than the Trump administration previously reported, in part because officials were stepping up the practice long before the border policy that prompted international outrage last spring.

The revelation came in a report by the inspector general of Health and Human Services, the agency tasked with caring for migrant children. "How many more children were separated is unknown, by us and HHS" because of failures to track families as they were being separated, the report said.

Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who sued on behalf of a mother separated from her son, said the separation policy "was a cruel disaster from the start."

The separations began in 2017. Yet last June 17, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted: "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period."

The Space Force is with him

In a speech at the Pentagon, Trump laid out plans for a new array of space-based sensors and other high-tech systems designed to more quickly detect and defeat missile attacks as China and Russia develop  more advanced systems 

"Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States — anywhere, anytime, any place," Trump said. He did not mention Russia, China or North Korea in his speech.

Trump touted his plan to create the Space Force as a sixth branch of the military. "We will recognize that space is a new war-fighting domain with the Space Force leading the way," Trump said.

What else is happening: 

  • As the shutdown drags on and most Americans blame Trump, his approval rating has slipped below the 40% mark in several new polls.
  • Gary Cohn, Trump’s former top economic adviser, told The Boston Globe that the shutdown is “completely wrong,” and said furloughing federal workers “makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.” Added Cohn: “I’m confused as to what the White House’s strategy is on this a little bit.”
  • The New York FBI office has started an unofficial food bank for agents going without pay.
  • While Pelosi is grounded, an Air Force plane Thursday afternoon flew Melania Trump to Florida, suggesting she planned to spend a long weekend at Mar-a-Lago. But Trump has canceled a planned trip by Cabinet members to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
  • The 50,000 retired members of the U.S. Coast Guard are at risk of not receiving their pension payments in two weeks, according to Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He made his comments to NBC News.
  • The government shutdown has delayed an update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the shifting location of the magnetic North Pole. The lack of that information could compromise the accuracy of GPS navigation systems, The Washington Post reported.
  • President Emmanuel Macron says France will remain militarily involved in Syria this year regardless of Trump's plan to withdraw U.S. troops from the country. "Any hasty decision to withdraw would be a mistake," Macron said.
  • Vice President Mike Pence defended his wife's new teaching job at a Virginia Christian school that bans LGBT faculty and families. "This criticism of Christian education in America should stop,” Pence told the Catholic news network EWTN. 

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