Well, we didn’t think they would do it. Then we were pretty sure they would do it. Then we decided they definitely wouldn’t do it. But lo and behold, they did it!
The diligent and indefatigable conference committee reached a deal that is expected to pass both houses of Congress thus averting a government shutdown, assuming the president is willing to sign it. (Details here.)
After saying he probably wouldn’t earlier today, Donald Trump is now hinting that he will sign the negotiated spending bill and just go get his border wall money from elsewhere (national emergency), but hasn’t promised yet, because he sees Friday less as an appropriations deadline and more as a mid-season finale.
He’s still trying to spin this as a win, even though the funds set aside for his border wall in the final bill ($1.375 billion) is LESS than what was in the original bipartisan spending agreement reached BEFORE the December shutdown ($1.6 billion).
Ask for $5.7 billion → turn down $1.6 → settle for $1.3 = the Art of the Deal?
The president is also bragging that he had 35,000 people at his El Paso rally [he had 6,500 according to the city’s fire department] because the fire marshal agreed to ignore the max capacity [the fire marshal most decidedly did not do this] and that’s way more people than the 300 who showed up for Beto O’Rourke’s rally down the street [which actually had 7,000].
We’ll take a wild guess that if you had to choose to listen to either Trump’s rally speech (during which a BBC journalist was assaulted by a crowd member) or Beto’s, you probably pick the latter, so here it is (this one is probably SFW, though he has been known to drop an F-bomb now and then):
Meanwhile, Ted Cruz is getting cute with acronyms, proposing the “Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order” Act -- aka the EL CHAPO Act. The purpose is to take the $14 billion in assets to be seized by authorities after the drug kingpin’s conviction and use them to fund the border wall.
The House Majority Leader says a bi-partisan bill to protect DACA and TPS recipients is in the works.
The Senate Homeland Security committee delayed a vote on the nomination of current acting ICE director Ron Vitiello, after a union that represents 7,000 ICE agents asked the committee to vote Vitiello down, saying he “lacks the judgement and professionalism to effectively lead a federal agency.”
From NYT: “Videoconferencing in Immigration Court: High-Tech Solution or Rights Violation?”
From The Nation: “Rethinking Ralph Northam: Progressives shouldn’t expect infallibility from our leaders”
From NBC News: “Rapper 21 Savage relased on bond from ICE detention in immigration case”
From WaPo: “On El Paso’s Shelter Place, an American divide over immigrants and immigration”
Bonus Videos: Late night coverage of the spending deal and the border wall.
Countdown to Shutdown v.2.0National EmergencyShutdown v.2.0:
Well... it was nice while it lasted
A spending agreement to avert a government shutdown looked like a sure thing late last week until Democrats threw in an eleventh-hour demand requiring a cap on ICE detention beds. One wonders whether it might have been better to include this ask from the start rather than appearing to change course and derail negotiations at the last minute. It may be a laudable position but it’s terrible politics. If the government shuts down on Friday, the blame this time will be placed squarely on the Dems.
And though the President is rage-tweeting, does he really have any skin in the game at this point? The White House already has an emergency declaration written up and ready to go. The only reason for delay is to build expectations to hype a dramatic reveal.
Tonight, Trump will hold a rally in El Paso (one newspaper’s headline describes the city as “bracing” for a Trump rally) to reiterate his, at best, misleading claims about border walls lowering crime.
Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke, who represented the area in the Texas Senate for several years, will be leading a protest march against Trump’s visit. The march will culminate in a “Celebration of El Paso” at the Chalio Acosta Sports Center only a block from Trump’s venue (both about a 5 minute walk from the border), where O’Rourke is expected to deliver remarks.
Will he have anything to… announce?
Beto is not the only well-known figure that will feature at tonight’s protest – Trump will also be welcomed by the Trump Baby Blimp.
Speaking of Texas here are two updates on the Texas voter-citizenship story from the Texas Tribune.
For Your Calendar:
Tuesday 9 am: Oral arguments on Trump’s travel ban will begin tomorrow morning at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, MD.
Wednesday 10 am: Senate committee will vote on the nomination of acting ICE Director Ronald Vitiello in Dirksen 342.
From Reuters: “California to pull troops from border in apparent riposte to Trump”
From Politico: “The Border Patrol’s recruiting crisis”
From NYT: “’Pit of Infection’: A Border Town’s Crisis Has Nothing to Do With Migrants”
From WaPo: “’My Whole town practically lived there’: From Costa Rica to New Jersey, a pipeline of illegal workers for Trump goes back years”
From Politico: “Bloomberg scorches Trump’s ‘un-American’ immigration policies”
From WaPo: “ICE agents in North Carolina arrest hundreds of immigrants”
After meeting with CBP on Wednesday, conference committee members seemed far more optimistic that a deal will be reached and voted on by the end of next week. CBP emphasized the need for technology at the border, more so than physical barriers. Both House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader McConnell have indicated that they will back any bipartisan bill that the committee successfully negotiates. Both sides agree that $5.7 billion for a big, beautiful border wall from sea to shining sea is out of the question. Still, debates over detention bed funding and relief for Puerto Rico are still looming.
But overall, things are looking good on the congressional side.
On the executive side, things aren’t so clear. Trump wants to be seen as having “won.” But he’s also a loose cannon who frequently redefines what “winning” looks like. At the outset of the shutdown, “winning” meant $5.7 billion for a physical wall. During the shutdown, it was $5.7 billion for “slats,” “barriers,” or “peaches.” At the end of the shutdown, merely reopening the government for 3 weeks was touted as a “win” even though we all knew it was a “cave.”
So, will “border security” be spun as a “win” for Trump?
Will he veto the spending bill?
If so, will Congress have the votes to override the veto? (It’s possible. NO ONE in Congress wants another shutdown. NO ONE.)
Or is Trump just waiting for the above clock to run out so he can declare his “national emergency”?
Your Week In Racism:
It’s been a weird few days for Virginia.
First, Governor Northam apologized for being photographed either in black face or in a KKK hood (he wasn't sure which) in his med school yearbook.
Then he adamantly denied appearing in that photo.
Then, for some reason, he admitted to appearing in black face on a separate occasion (ironically while dressing up as Michael Jackson, who was accused of bleaching his face … weird huh?).
Then seemingly out of nowhere, the state’s Attorney General decided, for some reason, to “come out” as having appeared in black face years ago.
As these developments appeared on computer and television screens around the country, this was everyone:
One of the more controversial claims from the address was this:
San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in the country. In response, and at the request of San Diego residents and political leaders, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.
The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our Nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.
Simply put, walls work and walls save lives. So let’s work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.
To everyone’s relief Trump did not use the venue to declare a national emergency. Yet.
Many Republicans are nervous about the emergency declaration for many reasons, including its potential to diminish Congress’s standing as a co-equal branch and setting a bad precedent. Are they willing to vote against the president? Maybe this bit of legislation, gaining bipartisan support, offers a hint – the bill would require Congressional approval to leave NATO (another common threat of Trump’s that Republicans largely disavow).
Just hours before the SOTU, New Mexico’s Governor announced that she was withdrawing National Guard troops from the border and asked the governors of other border states to do the same. Then… she released this video showing what she thinks of all this wall talk (hint: she doesn’t like it):
The border security conference committee charged with negotiating an agreement that would avoid a shutdown and a fake emergency declaration are meeting today at 10am to receive a classified briefing by Border Patrol.
From The New Yorker: “Trump’s Dangerous Scapegoating of Immigrants at the State of the Union”
From BuzzFeed News: “Customs And Border Protection Apologized After An Agent Questioned A BuzzFeed News Reporter About Trump Coverage”
From The Hill: “Migrant caravan arrives at town on Texas border”
From Politico: “MAGA all-stars visit border to plot private wall project”
From AP: “Trump immigrant crime hotline still faces hurdles, pushback”
The president will deliver his third State of the Union address before the standard joint session of Congress on the House floor. The difference between this one and the others? The face appearing right behind him. No longer a deferential Paul Ryan smiling and nodding and looking sincere – instead, sitting to the left of what we think might be a mannequin but is probably VP Pence, we will see Nancy Pelosi, the woman who just OWNED him in the shutdown showdown.
Here is an artistic rendering of what we think it will look like:
Dems are making a statement with their guest invitations. Here's a partial list of +ones:
Rep. Pelosi (D-NY) will bring Jose Andres, who provided millions of meals in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and thousands for furloughed workers during the government shutdown. She has also invited Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.
Sen. Merkley (D-OR) will bring a Guatemalan mother and daughter who were separated by CBP under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy last year.
Rep. Coleman (D-NJ) and Gomez (D-CA) will bring former employees of Trump’s golf clubs who were recently fired due to their immigration status.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) will bring the activist who confronted then-Sen. Jeff Flake in an elevator during the Kavanaugh hearings.
Sen. Harris (D-CA), Sen. Warren (D-MA), Rep. Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Kaine (D-VA), and 9 others will bring government employees (including a lot of air traffic controllers) who were impacted by the government shutdown.
Sen. Murphy (D-CA) will bring the director of a shelter for kids separated at the border.
Much of the SOTU address will focus on immigration and border security. Given that he has been spending hours working on the speech with Mr. “I’d-be-happy-if-no-refugees-ever-set-foot-on-American-soil-again” Stephen Miller, including three hours this afternoon, it’s likely to be much of more of the same extremist anti-immigrant rhetoric. No surprise there.
The big question is: will he use this high-profile event to declare a national emergency?
Most invested in the answer are Senate Republicans, for four reasons. First, it flouts the authority of Congress as co-equal branch of government. Second, such a move would force them into a potential vote against the president. Third, it sets a precedent that future presidents (i.e. Democratic presidents) could use. Fourth, who knows where he’ll take the money from? Of course Senate Dems oppose the declaration as well.
But even if he doesn’t do so tonight, it’s looking more and more likely that he will at some point between now and next Friday, the deadline for spending bill negotiations. He and Jared Kushner have been meeting with contractors about beginning the construction.
But who knows? Trump’s definition of “wall” vacillates and today he even suggested using the military to build a “Human Wall if necessary.”
Tremendous numbers of people are coming up through Mexico in the hopes of flooding our Southern Border. We have sent additional military. We will build a Human Wall if necessary. If we had a real Wall, this would be a non-event!
From Politico: “Nielsen to testify before House panel after subpoena threat”
From Bloomberg Law: “Businesses Challenging Visa Denials Seeing Early Successes”
From Reuters: “Founder of Proud Boys sues over being labeled hate group”
From WaPo: “D.C. will offer up to $725 per person to help residents seeking U.S. citizenship”
From Politico: “’They basically have nothing to do’: Trio of Republicans face life in exile”
Excerpt: “Now, while the rest of their colleagues work on crafting bills, the trio of committee exiles are searching for ways to spend their time on Capitol Hill so they’re not just waiting around to vote or aimlessly roaming the hallways.”
Rep. Raskin (D-MD): “I suppose they can form a pariah caucus.’”
As “waste of time” negotiations continue in the border security conference committee, four committee members will be touring the border today (two Rs and one D). Also headed to the border - an additional 3,750 active duty troops.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is said to have warned Trump that declaring a national emergency could spark a backlash from some Republicans and the Senate could pass a resolution against the declaration.
Cryptic: Will Trump declare a national emergency during tomorrow’s State of the Union?
He told reporters last week to “listen closely”: “You'll hear the State of the Union, and then you'll see what happens right after the State of the Union.”
(BTW, Kamala Harris is bringing one of Trump's undocumented former Bedminster employees as her special guest to the SOTU)
Meanwhile, Tom Ridge, former DHS Secretary under George W. Bush, thinks the border security is a bit more complicated than Trump thinks and wishes Republicans would stop using it to score political points.
And Rep. Will Hurd has a better idea than “build that wall.” He says “stretch that cable.”
The Real Emergency:
-- Mexico is turning away American attorneys and journalists, detaining them and telling them their passports have been “flagged.”
-- Federal inmates were forced to survive polar vortex without heat or electricity. This is what it sounded like.
-- Cato Institute analyst says many of CBP’s methods, including internal checkpoints and making arrests for dime-bags, defy Supreme Court rulings.
Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday, which, in recent years, has meant the sitting president gives an interview to the network airing the game. This year it was Trump and CBS. Here are some excerpts (with lies highlighted in yellow)...
(Note: The following is a verbatim transcript prepared by CBS News – any incomplete sentences, word salads, and general nonsense are the president's):
Trump on the border "emergency":
It's national emergency, it's other things and you know there have been plenty national emergencies called. And this really is an invasion of our country by human traffickers. These are people that are horrible people bringing in women mostly, but bringing in women and children into our country. Human trafficking. And we're going to have a strong border. And the only way you have a strong border is you need a physical barrier. You need a wall.
Trump on the pedagogical purpose of the 35 day government shutdown:
… And on the 15th we have now set the table beautifully because everybody knows what's going on because of the shutdown. People that didn't have any idea- they didn't have a clue as to what was happening, they now know exactly what's happening. They see human trafficking. They see drugs and gangs and criminals pouring in.
[ICYMI, Trump thinks Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s racist photo is “Unforgivable!” (lol).]
Trump on NFL players applauding him for fixing the criminal justice system:
… a lot of people in the NFL have been calling and thanking me for it… A lot of [the NFL protest] is having to do with reform from what I understand. Whether it's criminal justice or whatever it may be and they have different versions and everybody seemed to have a different version of it. But a lot of it had to do with that, and I took care of that.
[Yep, he “took care of that.”]
Trump on race:
In terms of race, a lot of people are saying well this is something very special what's happening.
[Literally no one is saying this.]
That’s all for today except for a quick nod to Punxsutawney Phil, that early spring prediction was SPOT ON!
Though Trump is back to insisting that his wall be called a wall, we still remember his suggestion a few short days ago that we could call it “peaches” if we want to.
“This is where I ask the Democrats to come back to Washington and to vote for money for the wall, the barrier, whatever you want to call it, it's OK with me. They can name it whatever. They can name it 'peaches.'”1
Done and done!
Trump dug in further on funding for his border peaches, saying that fences or other barriers won’t be acceptable, it has to be peaches. He said that the negotiations of the conference committee were “a waste of time,” foreshadowing his intention to declare a national emergency in order to fund his border peaches. He went on to offer a new rationale for last month’s government shutdown – it was a teaching moment:
“By having the shutdown, we’ve set the table for where we are now. If I didn’t do the shutdown, people wouldn’t know, they wouldn’t understand the subject. Now they understand the subject. They realize what a humanitarian crisis it is. It’s called like in deal making setting the table. Or setting a stage. We’ve set the stage for what’s gonna happen on the 15th of February. I don’t think they’re gonna make a deal.”
Democrats have made their opening offer, which includes $14.296 billion ($70 million more than requested) for CBP to improve technology and facilities – but prohibits any of these funds to be used for border peaches. And Nancy Pelosi reiterated yesterday that “there’s not going to be any [peaches] money in the legislation.” Trump responded quickly during a pool spray in the Oval Office: “If there’s no [peaches], it doesn’t work.”
Some peaches supporters have been pointing to yesterday’s seizure of $3.5 million worth of fentanyl by CBP at the Nogales, AZ port of entry as evidence of the need for peaches. NBC’s Jacob Soboroff sums up their problem:
CBP announces *massive* seizure of fentanyl at AZ border.
Guess where? Port of entry, not desert.
Guess who? Mexican national, not Central American asylum seeker.
Next Thursday (2/7) at 10:30, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the Energy & Commerce Committee will hold hearings “examining the failure of the Trump administration’s inhumane family separation policy.” The hearings will be held in room 2123 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Bookmark this link for a live stream.
Deterrents to legal immigration – USCIS processing times have increased 46% under Trump, pushing the U.S. further down the list of desirable nations for skilled foreign nationals AND for the employers who might want to recruit them.
DHS is implementing visa sanctions on Ghana “due to lack of cooperation in accepting their nationals ordered removed from the United States.”
What racist things is Steve King (R-IA) up to today? Promoting a white supremacy website on his official government website. Tim Ryan (D-OH) has alerted the proper authorities.
From the Pew Research Center: “Majority of Americans continue to say immigrants strengthen the U.S.”
From the NYT: “One Lawyer, One Day, 194 Felony Cases”
From the Texas Tribune: “Texas still doesn't have a law on intellectual disability and the death penalty. Will that change this year?”
From NPR: “The Shutdown Is Over. Now the Federal Workforce Faces ‘Untold Morale Problems’
That's all for today. Enjoy your Groundhog Day tomorrow!!
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is saying he is open to anything that will prevent another shutdown, giving his Republican Senators on the conference committee extra leeway to negotiate a deal. Democrats are also signaling a willingness to give a little on border “fencing” where there is evidence such fencing is needed, but are still steadfast against a wall. Instead, they’re offering money for drug scanning technology at ports of entry, improvements to CBP facilities (intended to improve conditions for asylum seekers taken into CBP custody), and HSI investigations of human trafficking. They also seek to increase aid to Central America.
Neither side wants a shutdown. Bills are being introduced that would effectively ban shutdowns. One such bill, introduced by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), is called the “Stop STUPIDITY (Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage In The coming Years) Act” (they really could have done a better job with the acronym, srsly).
Trump’s rage tweeting about “WALL” leaves people wondering whether he’ll be willing to sign a compromise bill, fearful of negative coverage from Fox News and outrage from his base. One hope had been that semantics would win the day - with terms like "barrier" and "security" allowing both sides to claim victory - but Trump shot that down in a tweet this morning (see below). Still, the chances of shutdown might be shrinking, as the White House is finalizing the executive order to declare a national emergency in order to pilfer funds from FEMA and other agencies for WALL.
Here’s a sampling of the 13 tweets Trump has sent so far today:
Large sections of WALL have already been built with much more either under construction or ready to go. Renovation of existing WALLS is also a very big part of the plan to finally, after many decades, properly Secure Our Border. The Wall is getting done one way or the other!
More troops being sent to the Southern Border to stop the attempted Invasion of Illegals, through large Caravans, into our Country. We have stopped the previous Caravans, and we will stop these also. With a Wall it would be soooo much easier and less expensive. Being Built!
New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman has invited Victorina Morales, an undocumented worker recently fired from Trump’s Bedminster golf club, to attend the State of the Union address.
Bloomberg Government observes that government spending on detention and ICE operations has grown 40% over the past four years, even as Trump asks for more and more and more. Most of this increase is going straight into the pockets of CoreCivic and GEO Group, the private prison companies that ICE contracts to run detention facilities and detainee transportation.
Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark, penned an op-ed for the NYT on “The ‘Ethics’ of Trump’s Border Wall,” with the subtitle, “a wall would cause harm to immigrants and refugees, all of whom are equal to us in the eyes of God.”
From NYT: “End Forced Labor in Immigrant Detention”
From NYT: “He Says ‘Wall,’ They Say ‘Border Security’: A Glossary of the Border Debate”
From the AP: “ICE force-feeding detainees on hunger strike”
From CBS News: “ICE told hundreds of immigrants to show up to court Thursday — for many, those hearings are fake”
From Vanity Fair: “Even Trump’s Allies Are Questioning Kushner’s Doomed Immigration Plan”
From USA Today: “Kirstjen Nielsen spars with House Dems on oversight as Trump’s immigration team pushes back”
From HuffPo: “A Texas School District Is Helping Immigrants Facing Deportation. Here’s Why.”
The 17 members of the bipartisan dog-and-pony show meets for the first time this afternoon in room HC-5 in the Capitol basement to negotiate a deal on the border wall. No one is particularly optimistic that they can produce something that a mercurial president is guaranteed to like. Some members are trying to thrown in some nonsense about debt limits and spending restrictions, but most agree that this would just leave more room for disagreements and deal-breakers. Same goes for DACA protections and TPS. Outside this committee, lawmakers are pushing for a bill that would ban government shutdowns. This has some support from both sides, but there’s still no reason to think it will go anywhere.
You can read more about all of this in reporting from Politico and WaPo.
But who cares about any of that when there is MUCH BIGGER NEWS!!?!
Much Bigger News:
As you know by now, many of Trump’s favorite border stories seem to be apocryphal: immigrants with “stronger, bigger, and faster vehicles” than CBP; prayer rugs being found in the southern desert; women and children duct-taped in vans. CBP can’t seem to back-up these claims, so where do they come from?
Well, the internet has finally figured it out.
Ready? All of these stories come from the 2018 action movie Sicario: Day of the Soldado. The president gets his “facts” about the “emergency” at the border from a movie with 61% on Metacritic (63% on Rotten Tomatoes). Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are Trump’s top border security advisors. Here’s the proof:
“They have the best vehicles you can buy. They have stronger, bigger, and faster vehicles than our police have, than ICE has, than Border Patrol has.”
WATCH: Trump argues that we need a border wall to stop migrants just driving right across in their "unbelievable vehicles... stronger, bigger, and faster vehicles than our police have, than ICE has" pic.twitter.com/b04eEKuL0I