Trump's shut-and-shut case
It wasn't a rally with supporters in red MAGA hats chanting "Build the wall," so President Donald Trump used his indoor voice for Tuesday night's speech from the Oval Office.
But the message was largely the same — of a plague of violent crime, drugs and unfair low-wage competition from "uncontrolled illegal immigration" that can be stopped only by multibillion-dollar barriers on the southern border.
"How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?" he said. He offered misleading figures and a more nuanced but still dubious claim that Mexico will pay for the wall. (See The Washington Post fact-check here.)
The call for the wall has fired up his supporters before and likely did again. Whether it gets him any closer to getting it is harder to see. Trump also held back from even mentioning the idea he has floated lately — to declare a national emergency and bypass Congress to get his wish.
There was only the barest mention during Trump's nine-minute address of the government shutdown that enters its 19th day Wednesday, causing increasing disruptions and desperation for 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay. "The only solution is for Democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government," Trump said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a joint address after Trump spoke, reiterated that Democrats would not sign off on funding the construction of the wall, and accused Trump of manufacturing a crisis. "We can secure our border without an expensive, ineffective wall," Schumer said. "And we can welcome legal immigrants and refugees without compromising safety and security."
For more, see Newsday's story on Trump by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and on the Democratic response by Robert Brodsky. Here are links for video of Trump's speech and of Schumer and Pelosi's rebuttal, and for transcripts of Trump and the Democrats.
In an off-the-record lunch with television anchors hours before the address, Trump made clear he wasn't enthusiastic about giving the speech or visiting a Texas border town on Thursday but was talked into it by advisers, The New York Times reported.
“It’s not going to change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it,” a person briefed on the discussion quoted Trump as saying about the border visit. Gesturing at his communications aides, Bill Shine, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, he added that “these people behind you say it’s worth it.”
Pulling the emergency cord
Though he didn't mention it Tuesday, Trump has that he has said the power to declare a national emergency to build his border wall, using military funds, without Congress' approval.
He might, but it would likely invited a legal fight, writes Politico.
Democrats say the move would be illegal. “We will oppose any effort by the president to make himself a king and a tyrant,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan).
Wall of the whoppers
It's a bad sign for the Trump administration's fidelity to facts in the border wall fight when Conway has to become the truth squad.
Conway admitted that Sanders was wrong when she claimed 4,000 known or suspected terrorists have been caught at the southern border. “That was an unfortunate misstatement,” Conway said to Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “Everybody makes mistakes, all of us."
Vice President Mike Pence, on NBC's "Today," tap-danced around his boss' false and debunked yarn that former presidents confided in him that they should have built a border wall. "I know the president has said that that’s what his impression from previous administrations, from previous presidents,” Pence said. “I know I’ve seen clips of previous presidents talking about the importance of border security ..."
The Washington Post finds Trump has made more false and misleading statements about immigration — 1,130 — than any other subject. That includes that Mexico will pay for the wall (it won't), that he never promised it would be concrete (he did) and that it's already being built (it's not.) The White House also argues a wall will keep out opioids, but most comes in via airports, ships and concealed at legal ports of entry in trucks and other private vehicles.
Janison: Crisis cherry-picking
If border security is a "crisis" at all, it isn't a sudden one. Illegal immigration to the U.S. has been a long-term problem, and long-term trends show a decline since 2005. Yet Trump persists in calling it an emergency.
It's not the only one he has declared, notes Newsday's Dan Janison. In October 2017, Trump declared deadly opioid abuse a public health emergency. With 70,000 deaths in the U.S. that year, it's a genuine emergency. But even with bipartisan agreement about that, progress has been slow and plodding.
On immigration, Trump has no congressional consensus or compromise. Nor has he stuck with efforts to try to craft one.
Manafort reveal sounds collusion-ish
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared polling data during the 2016 presidential campaign with a business associate who has suspected ties to Russian intelligence. That revelation came in a court filing after Manafort's legal team botched their efforts to redact it, which allowed reporters to uncover the blacked-out material.
Special counsel Robert Mueller charges Manafort lied about sharing the polling information with Konstantin Kilimnik, who was indicted last year on charges that he tampered with potential witnesses. Though the filing doesn't say what was done with the data, it leaves open the possibility that Russia might have used inside information from the Trump campaign as part of its effort to interfere with the election on Trump's behalf.
The filing also says Manafort has been accused of lying to investigators by saying that he did not discuss a Ukrainian peace plan with Kilimnik, including at a meeting in Madrid. Various such plans were also promoted by Trump business associate Felix Sater and Trump's then-personal lawyer Michael Cohen during a period when Russia was seeking relief from U.S. sanctions imposed for its aggression against Ukraine. Manafort's lawyers say the lies weren't intentional.
Elsewhere on Russian front, Natalia Veselnitskaya — the Russian lawyer whose June 2016 meeting with campaign officials at Trump Tower is a focus of Mueller's investigation — has been charged with obstruction of justice tied to a money laundering case in New York. While a separate case, the indictment seemed to confirm she had deep ties to senior Russian government officials, The New York Times reported.
Trump's Turkey hash
Trump's penchant for bypassing past policymaking processes and impulsive decisions on foreign affairs often leaves officials to scrambling to reverse-engineer ways to carry out his wishes, according to The New York Times. That's become even more common since John Bolton took over as national security adviser, largely sidelining National Security Council staff, and its pitfalls are evident in a growing diplomatic debacle over Trump's plan to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria and let Turkey take the lead in mopping up ISIS.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Bolton of making "a very serious mistake" Tuesday by demanding that Ankara guarantee the safety of Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria before U.S. troops leave. Bolton called "wrong and offensive" an op-ed that Erdogan wrote criticizing the belatedly evolving U.S. policy.
Trump had announced plans for a speedy withdrawal after Erdogan pushed for it in a phone call. Later, Trump slowed down the timetable while denying he was doing so.
What else is happening:
- Secret Service agents who aren't getting paid because of the shutdown are growing increasingly anxious and angry about it, several current and former agents told The New York Times. One waiting for his retirement papers to be processed said it's “an incredibly stressful job that requires your full attention," even without the distraction of worrying about mortgage and credit card bills.
- Long Island's congressional delegation reacted to Trump's speech along party lines. See Newsday's story by Ellen Yan.
- With Trump getting prime-time airtime to discuss the border "crisis," his 2020 campaign saw an opportunity, sending out a fundraising email calling for $500,000 to be contributed to "our Official Secure the Border Fund."
- The mayor of McAllen, Texas — the border city that Trump will visit on Thursday — says better border security is needed but he doesn't think the wall is a good idea. Neither do the nine House members whose districts line the border from Texas to California, CBS News reported.
- Trump convened a White House meeting on drug prices, frustrated over a new round of price hikes after he promised to get them lowered, Politico reported. "We will work with Democrats, we will work with Republicans to make that happen,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
- The Supreme Court declined to intervene on behalf of a mysterious foreign-government-owned company that is fighting a subpoena by Mueller. The firm faces fines of $50,000 a day for refusing to comply.
- Mick Mulvaney, who took over as acting White House chief of staff about a week ago, has expressed interest in becoming president of the University of South Carolina when the job opens up during the summer, The New York Times reported.