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White House pitches new border-wall spending deal

Incoming acting White House chief of staff Mick

Incoming acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, far right, is seen with Vice President Mike Pence and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner on Capitol Hill on Friday. Photo Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

'We moved off of the 5'

The government shutdown, which has left some 400,000 federal workers in limbo and shuttered nine federal agencies as of midnight Friday, could extend into the new year, said incoming acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

“It’s very possible that this shutdown will go beyond the 28th and into the new Congress,” Mulvaney said on "Fox News Sunday."

With President Donald Trump insisting that any spending bill include money for his southern border wall — or the since rechristened “steel slat barrier” — White House officials signaled Sunday the president would be willing to accept less than the $5.7 billion he has been demanding, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

The White House has offered Senate Democrats, who wield key voting power in the GOP-controlled Senate, a deal that calls for $2 billion in funding. The figure is just above the $1.3 billion proposed by Democrats.

"We moved off of the 5. We hope they move up from their 1.3," Mulvaney said in the Fox interview.

'Fourth century strategy'

Senate Democrats making the rounds on Sunday talk shows expressed their willingness to negotiate for an increase in border security funding, but they doubled down on their position that the money should not be directed toward the wall, fence, shiny slats or any other name for the president’s proposed southern barrier.

“It really is in the president’s hands to decide,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in his chamber. “He says it is an issue of border security. I think we know better it’s an issue of his own political insecurity. When the right-wingers start screaming at him, he just backs off and dissembles in front of us.”

“I can tell you that I think there is an appetite among Democrats to do something sensible at the border,” Durbin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) dismissed the president’s border wall as a “fourth century strategy” that Democrats will not support.

“The American people want us to spend money in a smart way. $5 billion is a lot of money,” Merkley said on ABC’s “This Week.” “That's 650,000 children attending Head Start. It's 2 million meals a day for a year ... for seniors. And to spend it on a fourth century strategy, rather than on stuff that actually improves border security, is something we're just not going to do.”

What's in a name?

Trump, who in 2016 campaigned on a promise to build a “big beautiful wall” along the U.S. and Mexico border, spent this past week rebranding the wall in the hopes it would somehow help with negotiations.

"We don't use the word 'wall' necessarily, but it has to be something special to do the job — steel slats," Trump said Friday at a White House bill-signing ceremony.

Earlier last week he noted that he was not building a "Concrete Wall," but "artistically designed steel slats, so that you can easily see through it."

But by Sunday, Trump was back to calling it “a good old fashioned Wall.”

“The only way to stop drugs, gangs, human trafficking, criminal elements and much else from coming into our Country is with a Wall or Barrier,” Trump tweeted. “Drones and all of the rest are wonderful and lots of fun, but it is only a good old fashioned Wall that works!”

Trump pushes Mattis out

Outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who announced his resignation on Thursday, had planned on staying on the job until February, but Trump pushed the general out early, delivering the boot via Twitter.

Trump in a tweet announced that he was installing Mattis’ deputy, Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, to the post beginning Jan. 1.

The president abruptly moved to oust Mattis from the Pentagon after days of negative news coverage regarding the general’s departure. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, former top U.S. military officials and foreign allies have all raised concerns over Mattis’ departure and have criticized Trump for his decision to ignore Mattis’ recommendation to not pull U.S. troops from Syria. Trump, in speaking earlier this month with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ignored talking points outlined by Mattis, and told Erdogan that Syria was essentially "all yours. We're done," according to multiple news reports.

James Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander at NATO from 2009-2013, denounced Trump for pushing Mattis out early.

“Yet another bad move by the president simply pushing General Mattis out the door and not taking advantage of an additional two months that he offered to serve in order to have an orderly transition in our most important cabinet department. It all feels very chaotic in Washington,” Stavridis tweeted.

Durbin said he was one of several senators who privately begged Mattis to stay.

"It breaks my heart that he’s going to step aside," Durbin said on "Meet the Press." "We counted on him to be there and to stop this president from his worst impulse.”

Janison: The politics of Trump's AG picks

For someone who accuses others of rigging things against him, President Donald Trump appears bent on arranging things in his favor at the Justice Department, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

It turns out that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, a political backer of the president who urged publicly last year that special counsel Robert Mueller be reined in, blew off the advice of an ethics official to stay out of that case.

It also turns out that William Barr, nominated by Trump as permanent AG, wrote an unsolicited 20-page memo earlier this year to the department, blasting Mueller's obstruction-of-justice inquiry as "fatally misconceived."

This is expected to come up at Barr's Senate confirmation in the new year.

What else is happening:

  • For now, the "Santa Tracker" run by NORAD is safe from being shuttered by the government shutdown, reports The Associated Press.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin issued a statement to reassure financial markets following a week that included the government shutdown and reports that Trump had inquired about firing Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell over concerns about rising interest rates. Mnuchin said on Twitter: “We continue to see strong economic growth in the U.S. economy with robust activity from consumers and business.”
  • A baby boom in the White House briefing room has created the other "Trump bump." Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Debra Saunders talks with several White House reporters who are pregnant, or have recently given birth, including Newsday's Figueroa.

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