When the bucks stop
With the partial government shutdown in its third week, President Donald Trump was asked by a reporter Sunday if he "can relate to the pain of federal workers who can't pay their bills?" Did that awaken memories of that time in 1990 when his business empire was buried in debt and his bankers put him on a $450,000-a-month allowance?
"I can relate," Trump replied, without elaborating on how. "I'm sure the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do." What's more, Trump asserted, "Many of those people that won't be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I'm doing."
Several federal employee unions have sued the Trump administration, arguing that the shutdown triggered by Trump's demands for funding a border wall is illegally forcing hundreds of thousands of federal employees to work without guaranteed compensation.
Trump said talks Sunday between Vice President Mike Pence and aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were "productive."
A Democratic official familiar with the session said no progress was made, saying Trump's side failed to provide the details on how the $5 billion Trump is demanding would be spent, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
The Democrats have called on Trump to sign off now on a deal that would end the shutdown while continuing discussions about border security funding.
Trump also said if Congress doesn't give him what he wants, he was considering declaring a "national emergency." But how would that get him the money? "We have a lot of different ways," he replied. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on CNN's "State of the Union" that Trump has asked Cabinet secretaries and budget officials "to go out and find money that can be used legally to guard the southern border."
Concrete is out for the wall and steel is in, Trump says. He advertised that as a concession to Democrats, and also a better idea.
"They don't like concrete, so we'll give them steel," Trump said, saying the metal, while more expensive, will look "beautiful" and be "less obtrusive and stronger."
“If he has to give up a concrete wall, replace it with a steel fence in order to do that so that Democrats can say, ‘See? He’s not building a wall anymore.' That should help us move in the right direction,” Mulvaney said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” There was no indication Democrats see the steel idea as a game-changer.
Janison: Load of Kabul
It was momentarily startling last week to hear Trump echo a made-in-Moscow propaganda point — that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was justified because "terrorists were going into Russia."
No such thing was happening, but the statement fit two Trumpian themes, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. One is to give verbal credit to the current-day Kremlin's point of view — even if his administration's policy goes in a different direction.
Mulvaney was asked to explain Trump's comment on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday and offered a non-explanation. “I think those are comments the president made born out of frustration from where we are and I’m not too concerned about the details," Mulvaney said.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) had another theory: "That's not something you say out of frustration, that's a Kremlin talking point."
Hurry up and wait?
It's looking like a longer goodbye for the U.S. troops in Syria. National security adviser John Bolton said Sunday while visiting Israel that there is now no timetable, and they won't leave the northeastern part of the war-battered country until Islamic State militants are defeated and Turkey agrees not to attack American-allied Kurdish fighters.
Trump in Washington reaffirmed his commitment to the withdrawal, though he said "we won't be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone." After originally saying he could leave that job to Turkey, he seemed to be shuffling the lineup deck of who might pick up the slack
"Iran hates ISIS more than we do, if that's possible. Russia hates ISIS more than we do. Turkey hates ISIS maybe not as much as we do. But these are countries that hate ISIS," Trump said.
Terror-isn'ts at the border
One of Trump's arguments for the border wall is that it's needed to stop terrorists from sneaking into the U.S. across the Mexican border. But a State Department report last fall said there's no evidence that has happened.
Pressed on that point by "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "We know that roughly nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally." Wallace interrupted: "But they’re not coming across the southern border, Sarah, they’re coming and they’re being stopped at airports."
Sanders' fallback position: That without a wall, the terrorists will start coming in over the border when it dawns on them that it's "the most vulnerable point of entry." (Click here for video of the exchange starting at the 1:25 mark.)
Trump claimed without evidence recently that past presidents have privately confided to him that they regret not building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But at least three of the four living U.S. presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — did no such thing, their representatives said. Representatives for George H.W. Bush, who died in November, and Jimmy Carter, who has criticized Trump's stance on immigration, did not respond to requests for comment, Politico reported.
Mulvaney, on CNN, did not clear up the mystery. “I have no idea. I have not asked the president that question," he said.
What else is happening:
- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said more than 50,000 federal workers and contractors in the metropolitan area, including thousands on Long Island, are not receiving paychecks because of the shutdown, Newsday's Michael O'Keeffe reports.
- Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) tweeted a call for a compromise that gives Trump "funds for Wall" but adds protections for dreamers and immigrants with temporary protected status.
- Former Vice President Joe Biden sees himself as the best hope to beat Trump in 2020, is leaning toward running and will probably decide in the next two weeks, Democrats who have spoken to him told The New York Times.
- Trump said he's in "no hurry" to get permanent replacements for the Cabinet jobs now being filled by fill-ins, which includes Defense, Justice, Interior and EPA. "I sort of like acting. It gives me more flexibility," said Trump. Acting department heads don't require Senate confirmation.
- The new House Armed Services Committee chair, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), says he wants to hold hearings about Trump's partisan political messages when talking to troops. "I don't think you should use the military to advance your agenda," Smith said on ABC's "This Week."
- Schiff, the House Intelligence chairman, said on CNN that he wants to work with special counsel Robert Mueller to determine whether any witnesses who have testified before his panel when it was under GOP control have committed perjury.