It's good news for Americans who like their planes and poultry inspected and their tax refunds processed on time that the Trump administration has recalled some 50,000 furloughed federal workers this week.
For the workers: not so great. Besides not getting paid until the shutdown is over, the now-deemed-essential employees will also lose the unemployment benefits that those still furloughed can collect.
The Labor Department on Wednesday sent a reminder of the rules to states that administer jobless benefits, The Wall Street Journal reported. The rationale is that while unpaid, they're not unemployed, and will get their back pay when the shutdown ends, whenever that happens. (The furloughed will get back pay, too, but them's the rules.)
The squeeze is growing ever tighter on the 800,000 federal workers as the shutdown approaches Day 27 on Thursday.
Bloomberg News discovered growing numbers of federal workers are cracking open their retirement nest eggs. Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board data show a 34% jump in hardship withdrawals in the 2-1/2 weeks after Christmas when compared with the same period last year.
Ten days after President Donald Trump said "I can relate" to the pain of those not getting paid, most Americans have their doubts, according to a YouGov poll posted Wednesday. It found that when asked if Trump cared about federal employees, 44% said "not at all" and another 17% said "not much."
Increasingly, it's not just their problem. Economists foresee real damage to the nation's economy if the shutdown drags into February or beyond, according to The Associated Press. Revised estimates — including from Trump's own economists — suggest it has already crimped growth and could ultimately push the economy into a contraction, The New York Times reported.
The Union's in quite a state
With no deals in sight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a turn rattling Trump's cage Wednesday. She called on him to delay his Jan. 29 State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress or to deliver it in writing if the shutdown doesn't end this week.
Spurned for now by Democratic leadership, Trump tried to negotiate directly with rank-and-file members of Congress by holding a meeting at the White House with the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus — a 48-member group that includes Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove).
Suozzi told Newsday that the Democrats present urged Trump to immediately reopen the government and continue negotiating on border security funding afterward, which is what House Democrats have been advocating since the shutdown began.
Suozzi declined to characterize Trump's response at the meeting, saying: "I can only say that I believe both sides believe there is a path forward if we keep working on it." For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
ISIS is still alive and killing
Military commanders told Trump when he visited Iraq last month that, contrary to his claim that ISIS had been defeated in Syria, the diminished terrorist group remained a threat.
The warning was tragically borne out Wednesday when a suicide bombing claimed by ISIS killed two U.S. soldiers and two American citizens during a patrol in a northeastern Syrian town. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), often an ally of the president, charged Trump's plan to withdraw from Syria had emboldened the jihadists.
"My concern, by the statements made by President Trump, is that you set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we're fighting," Graham said, interrupting a Senate hearing. But Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Trump should stick with the pullout plan because “If you’re going to wait for a time when perfect peace breaks out in the Middle East, you’ll never leave.”
Janison: A lovelorn Jersey churl
Chris Christie has a tough take in his new book about those put in place alongside Trump after he got kicked off the team. A "revolving door of deeply flawed individuals — amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons — who were hustled into jobs they were never suited for" is how he puts it.
What the ex-New Jersey governor never gets around to acknowledging, writes Newsday's Dan Janison, is that serving as a Trump sycophant got him nowhere. Subservience didn't save the likes of Michael Cohen or Steve Bannon either. Yet by sparing the president from his wrath, it appears Christie still carries a torch for the architect-in-chief of his humiliation.
From no collusion to collusion, I dunno
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday night that he never denied Trump's campaign colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign — only that the president himself was not involved in collusion.
Appearing on CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time" with Chris Cuomo, Giuliani said he doesn't know if other people in the campaign, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, were working with the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential race.
That would seem to suggest that there were legitimate reasons for the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate, despite the constant protestations of Giuliani, Trump and his allies to the contrary.
Wide world of walls
Trump tweeted Wednesday that "There are now 77 major or significant Walls built around the world" and "they have all been recognized as close to 100% successful."
The first part is true. The figure comes from a USA Today story last year that cites a study by Elisabeth Vallet, a geography professor at the University of Quebec-Montreal.
The second part is debatable. "Walls are public relations exercises where governments demonstrate that they are actually doing something," Vallet told the newspaper last summer. "They usually create more problems."
Vallet reiterated in a tweet responding to Trump that her research and studies by others find that "#borderwalls are being built despite the fact that they don't work:"
Roaming signal at Trump hotel
Back in 2015, T-Mobile CEO John Legere beefed with Trump on Twitter to complain about a stay at one of his New York hotels. Trump called T-Mobile's service "terrible" and Legere, after checking out, shot back: “I am so happy to wake up in a hotel where every single item isn’t labeled ‘Trump.’ ”
Fast forward to April 2018. The Washington Post reports that the day after T-Mobile announced a planned $26 billion merger with rival Sprint, which requires approval by federal regulators, Legere and eight other executives of the company checked into the Trump International Hotel in
Washington. Legere and others have been back several times since — visits that raise questions about whether patronizing Trump’s private business is viewed as a way to influence public policy.
In a separate development Wednesday, the General Services Administration’s internal watchdog issued a scathing report over how the agency decided to let the president keep his lease for the hotel, which is in a federally owned building. The GSA "improperly ignored" the question of whether the lease violates the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, the report said.
What else is happening:
- Michael Cohen hired an IT firm to rig early online polls in Trump's favor, but the contractor, an officer at Liberty University in Virginia, says he never got the full amount owed, the Wall Street Journal reports.
- A PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll finds 70% of Americans think shutting down the government to reach a policy consensus is a bad strategy, and more blame Trump (54%) than congressional Democrats (31%).
- A top HUD official is leaving after a series of bruising battles with less experienced right-wing appointees, including their efforts to gut fair-housing rules, The Washington Post reported. One fight Pam Patenaude won: getting disaster-recovery money released to Puerto Rico after Trump ordered it cut off in the erroneous belief its government was using emergency money to pay off debt.
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand returned to her upstate hometown, Brunswick, on Wednesday to kick off her 2020 presidential campaign, saying she understood the “urgency of this moment” and had the track record to win, reports Newsday's Yancey Roy.
- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer came up three votes short of the 60 needed on a measure to reverse a Treasury Department decision lifting sanctions from three companies connected to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Vladimir Putin.
- Schumer said he will oppose Trump's attorney general nominee, William Barr, because he is unconvinced that Barr will protect the Russia probe and provide Congress with a full report on Mueller’s findings.
- Mueller's final report, or the version the public ultimately gets to see, may not be the sweeping narrative many people have been expecting, according to stories by The New York Times and The Associated Press.
- Karen Pence, the vice president's wife, is returning to a teaching job at a Virginia Christian school that bans LGBTQ students and employees.
- While Trump has yet to speak about it, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denounced as "abhorrent" Iowa Rep. Steve King's comments questioning why white supremacy is considered offensive. "The Republican leadership, unlike Democrats, have actually taken action when their members have said outrageous and inappropriate things,” Sanders told reporters.