Category Archives: Congress

Oklahoma senator blames hateful rhetoric for teens harassing Native American


Sen. James Lankford

“If there’s anything we should have learned from Martin Luther King Jr. is hate doesn’t drive out hate, only love drives out hate,” said Sen. James Lankford. | Al Drago/Getty Images

The actions of a group of teenage Trump supporters who harassed a Native American veteran in Washington over the weekend are the result of an uptick in hateful rhetoric that has creeped into the public discourse, Sen. James Lankford said.

“The key issue that I would say is in our culture for whatever reason, in our current culture, whether it’s on social media or at events, I see people trying to stop hate with more hate,” the Oklahoma Republican said Sunday during an interview with host Martha Raddatz on ABC’s “This Week.”

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“That doesn’t help us as a culture,” he said. “If there’s anything we should have learned from Martin Luther King Jr., [it] is: Hate doesn’t drive out hate; only love drives out hate.”

King, whose federal holiday will be observed Monday, famously said in a 1957 sermon: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“To respond back with love and compassion to people rather than driving out hatred would help us in our social media culture and with the dialogue that’s happening,” Lankford said. “It would help us at events and be able to have more open dialogue.”

The confrontation Friday between Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old Omaha Tribe elder and Vietnam veteran, and students from a Catholic boys’ high school in Kentucky, wearing hats emblazoned with President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, has sparked widespread outrage. Phillips said the students were chanting “build the wall” at him. Defenders of the teenagers said others at the site were harassing them, and that the teens weren’t chanting hateful slogans at him.

The teenagers were in the nation’s capital to participate in the anti-abortion March for Life, which coincided with the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington. Their school, Covington Catholic, and the Roman Catholic diocese have issued a statement condemning the behavior.

Lankford, whose home state boasts one of the nation’s largest Native American populations, declined to say whether the president bore any responsibility for the episode. Trump has repeatedly mocked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as “Pocahontas” and recently invoked the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre in a tweet mocking her.

Senate GOP adds disaster aid, spending stopgap to Trump’s immigration offer


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Saturday said the Senate will take up the package in the coming week. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Republicans plan to include $12.7 billion in disaster aid and government funding through the end of the fiscal year in their bill to advance President Donald Trump’s immigration proposal.

The president’s plan will test Democrats’ solidarity, pitting border security funding against protections for young immigrants and refugees. Now, it will also force Democrats to vote against bipartisan funding levels, aid for disaster-hit communities and an extension of the Violence Against Women Act, according to a summary of the Senate plan, obtained by POLITICO.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Saturday said the Senate will take up the package in the coming week.

The bill, which has yet to be released, would reopen the nine shuttered federal departments and dozens of agencies through Oct. 1 and will include the full $5.7 billion Trump requested for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It would also provide a three-year extension of protections for young immigrants enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and an extension of Temporary Protected Status for refugees currently covered.

The Senate GOP proposal includes $70.4 billion in total discretionary spending for the Department of Homeland Security. That includes a $5.9 billion funding boost for Customs and Border Protection, to pay for an additional 750 Border Patrol agents and 375 new CBP officers.

It would provide $8.5 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement — a $1.4 billion boost above current levels — funding an average detention capacity of 52,000 immigrants a day and an additional 2,000 law enforcement personnel.

The bill will also include nearly $2.2 billion for the Secret Service, which will help fund hiring for Trump’s 2020 presidential bid.

But there is little hope on Capitol Hill that the package will end the shutdown, which entered its fifth week on Saturday. Democrats remain firm in refusing to negotiate an immigration deal until after the government is reopened.

“The president’s trade offer — temporary protections for some immigrants in exchange for a border wall boondoggle — is not acceptable,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said in a statement following Trump’s televised immigration offer on Saturday.

House Democrats plan to take up their tenth bill to reopen the government in the coming week. Each previous bill has netted only a few Republican supporters, with McConnell saying the Senate won’t take up any spending bills the president won’t sign.

The House bill also reflects bipartisan conference agreements Republican and Democratic appropriators in both chambers negotiated last year.

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

Mark Meadows, Trump whisperer – POLITICO


Rep. Mark Meadows

Rep. Mark Meadows, a three-term North Carolina congressman little known outside the Beltway, has earned an outsize influence on shaping the direction of the Trump administration. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Congress

The conservative lawmaker talks to Trump more than the president does with many senior aides, sometimes spending an hour-plus on the phone or speaking multiple times a day.

When Mark Meadows didn’t get President Donald Trump’s chief of staff gig, he wasn’t losing much.

Just 10 days later, the powerful conservative lawmaker managed to engineer what has since become the longest-running government shutdown — convincing Trump to pull the trigger right as the partial closure was on the brink of being avoided.

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Meadows picked up the phone to make his move just after Vice President Mike Pence had told lawmakers over lunch on Dec. 19 — two days before government funding would expire — that Trump was prepared to sign a clean spending bill to keep the government open through early February. The North Carolina Republican, who helped shutter the government in 2013 during a revolt against Obamacare, wasn’t prepared to back away from demanding funds for a border wall. And despite Pence’s clear-as-day comments, he assumed the president wasn’t either.

Meadows was right.

The following day, at Meadows’ urging, Trump said he would veto any short-term funding bill that didn’t include $5.7 billion to build a wall along the southern border, a campaign chant-turned top policy priority. Republican leaders quickly scuttled a press conference planned to announce their agreement to keep the government open. A day later, a quarter of the federal government shutdown. Nearly a month later, little has changed.

Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, was among several prominent conservatives — including Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, and radio personality Rush Limbaugh — who pressured Trump to stick to his border wall promise as congressional negotiations unfolded in December. But while right-wing pundits often make their cases through the airwaves, Meadows’ methods of persuasion are far more direct.

Four sources with knowledge of their relationship said Trump talks to Meadows more than he does with many of his senior aides. They sometimes spend an hour-plus on the phone together or speak more than once per day.

The result is that a three-term congressman little known outside the Beltway has earned an outsized influence on shaping the direction of the Trump administration — and the country. Meadows has the president’s ear on any number of topics, from immigration and border security to criminal justice and international affairs. And he’s used that access to push Trump toward stances aligned with the rapidly ascendant House Freedom Caucus, the hard-line conservative and libertarian caucus founded in 2015 that Meadows chairs.

In other words, Meadows — who many people, even those in D.C., probably couldn’t pick out of a lineup — might be one of the country’s most powerful lawmakers.

“He had as much exposure to Trump as [recently departed House Speaker] Paul Ryan did, maybe more,” said a former White House official, who described Meadows as the president’s “go-to guy.” A current administration official said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has found himself in a similar situation.

The shifting power dynamics on Capitol Hill is yet another way that Trump has upended Washington’s political class.

A former aide to President Barack Obama told POLITICO that Trump’s predecessor had “plenty of relationships with individual members of Congress, but what we always did was keep leadership in the loop and respect the chain of command.” The White House declined to participate for this story.

If Trump is unavailable or preoccupied, Meadows can turn to the president’s senior staff.

During Trump’s recent trip to McAllen, Texas, Meadows was summoned to the White House to huddle with aides on their latest shutdown strategy, according to a person familiar with the meeting. And when Trump was weighing whether to declare a national emergency at the border — an extraordinary move he at least temporarily backed away from — Meadows was privately urging the White House to consider other options. One idea he floated was increasing the $160 fee Mexican citizens currently pay for valid Border Crossing Cards and reappropriating the funds for Trump’s border wall.

Publicly, Meadows has also proposed reallocating “improper payments,” a large annual sum of federal dollars erroneously given out, toward a wall project.

“He always provides Trump with a range of alternative solutions,” said the former Trump White House official.

Inside the West Wing, Meadows omnipresence — one person close to Trump estimated that the president met with Meadows “every [three] days” during his first few months in office — is welcomed by some but grates on others.

“He’s a torchbearer for conservative policies and holds the administration’s feet to the fire,” said one former Trump aide, describing his input as a net-positive.

But Meadows has also irritated White House aides hoping to avoid political battles or let certain issues simply fade away.

Perhaps most notably, he and fellow Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) urged Trump to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last fall for slow-walking congressional requests for documents related to the ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. When Trump polled his inner circle on getting rid of Rosenstein, most advisers argued doing so would be politically catastrophic, according to two sources familiar with those discussions.

“There’s definitely a group in [the White House] that thinks he’s a fucking pain in the ass,” said one of the former White House officials, who claimed that several staffers in the legislative affairs office find Meadows “more disruptive than helpful.”

Still, Meadows is unlikely to fall out of favor with Trump.

The North Carolina lawmaker first ingratiated himself with the president’s family during the 2016 election, becoming the de facto chairman of Trump’s operation in North Carolina, a bellwether state that worried senior campaign officials even late into the evening on election night. Two of those officials, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said they were even more grateful for the role Meadows’ wife Debbie played following the release of the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. On the tape, Trump brags to TV host Billy Bush about sexually accosting women.

“Debbie was on a bus with Christian women on Billy Bush Saturday, which was basically the acid test for hardcore Trump supporters. She and Mark were at the barricades with us,” one ex-campaign official said, recalling that Meadows’ wife became a top surrogate for Trump when he needed female defenders the most.

After Trump won, Meadows became an early congressional defender, positioning himself as a loyal supporter amid a GOP caucus queasy over the president’s Twitter habits and interference in congressional matters. He also tepidly embraced Trump family pet projects — such as paid family leave — that fell outside conservative orthodoxy.

“In the past, I wouldn’t have given it a chance, but Ivanka’s advocacy for that particular issue at least makes it a question that has to be answered,” Meadows said days after Trump stumped for the policy in his first State of the Union address. He later worked to help Jared Kushner pass the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill — another measure that angered hawkish Republicans — and the two of them now talk often, according to a Kushner aide.

“We went to North Carolina to an event that Mark threw a year ago for his reelect. Jared spoke very positively of him there,” the aide said.

Now, it could fall on Meadows to help the president navigate the seemingly intractable government shutdown. As the shutdown enters its fifth week, the Democrats and Republicans remain at an impasse. Negotiations between party leaders have dried up and the prevailing sense is that no one sees a way out. Trump’s latest attempt to offer a deal on Saturday — an exchange of wall funding for extending legal status protections for some undocumented immigrants — was rejected by Democrats before the president even officially made the overture.

“There’s only way out: open up the government, Mr. President, and then Democrats and Republicans can have a civil discussion and come up with bipartisan solutions,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Saturday.

But while other Republicans have started grumbling about Trump’s intransigence and the theatrics that have taken the place of face-to-face meetings, Meadows has resolutely stood by his side. He even cheered on the president when he canceled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s overseas visit to troops in Afghanistan, a move that prompted eye-rolling from other GOP members.

“Bravo to POTUS,” he wrote.

MAGA Twitter quickly glommed on.

Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Tom Marino to retire this month


Tom Marino

Rep. Tom Marino’s retirement will trigger a special election for the open seat, which is considered safely Republican. | AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file

Five-term Rep. Tom Marino is ditching Congress less than three weeks into his new term, he announced Thursday.

The Pennsylvania Republican, who was reelected by a landslide in November’s midterms, will step down Jan. 23 to take a job in the private sector, he said.

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“Having spent over two decades serving the public, I have chosen to take a position in the private sector where I can use both my legal and business experience to create jobs around the nation,” Marino said in a statement.

Marino represents Pennsylvania’s 12th District, which stretches from the outskirts of Harrisburg and State College, the home of Penn State University, to Pennsylvania’s border with New York.

The district is heavily Republican: Marino won reelection in 2018 by over 30 points, and President Donald Trump carried it by an even greater margin in the 2016 presidential election.

His retirement will trigger a special election for the open seat, which is considered safely Republican.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, will be responsible for setting the date for a special election. State law gives Wolf wide latitude for setting the date, but it has to be at least 60 days after Marino’s resignation.

Marino served as a U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania under President George W. Bush before returning to private legal practice. He was first elected to the House in 2010, and was one of Trump’s earliest boosters in Congress, backing him in the GOP primary and contributing to his electoral success in Pennsylvania.

Marino was nominated in 2017 to be the White House’s federal drug czar, a post tasked in part with crafting a response to the opioid crisis, but withdrew after a damning report from The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” showed that he advocated for legislation that would make it harder for the Drug Enforcement Administration to freeze suspicious opioid shipments, a win for drug distributors.

‘We’re not going to sit idly by’: Freshman Dems look to seize shutdown optics


Freshmen members of Congress

Rep. Lauren Underwood (center) joins other freshman House members as they walk to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Tuesday. | M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

Government Shutdown

The new class of House lawmakers is finding creative ways to pressure the GOP into reopening the government.

The start of the new Congress was supposed to be all about the historic freshman class. Instead, it’s been all about the historic government shutdown — and frustrated House Democrats are looking to change that.

When a handful of new members huddled Tuesday morning to strategize, Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.) suggested sending a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) demanding he reopen the government.

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Lawmakers liked the idea, according to members who attended the planning session, but it would take some time to pull it together.

“Why don’t we do something today?” suggested Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.). “Let’s just go over there.”

Hours later, the group marched from an impromptu, outdoor news conference to McConnell’s Capitol office, with reporters and cameras in tow.

It was the first in a series of moves freshman Democrats are planning to put their own stamp on the bitter battle over President Donald Trump’s border wall and a shutdown that has consumed the start of their congressional careers.

“One thing [Trump’s] proven to be very good at … is taking the attention and controlling the narrative,” Hill said. “So we’re trying to do what we can to pull that back as much as possible.”

Members are growing restless — though not ready to bend to Trump — over the fact that the newly empowered House Democratic Caucus has had to devote its attention and resources toward the standoff, now in its 27th day and the longest in U.S. history.

“This is not how I thought my first weeks of Congress would be,” said Rep. Lauren Underwood, a 32-year old Democrat from Illinois. “That’s OK. Because we were sent here for such [a] time.”

The new lawmakers are hoping to use the group’s collective star power to help get their message across.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a 29-year-old liberal firebrand who has 2.4 million Twitter followers, can’t walk around the Capitol without being swarmed by a throng of reporters and photographers. The new Congress has also garnered widespread media attention for having more minorities, women and young people than ever before.

“We collectively have more attention, more of a public voice, than probably most of the other members at this point,” Hill said. “So how can we use that to our advantage?”

“We continue to exhaust every single legislative option, but now I think we just have to find ways to get creative and build that pressure,” added Ocasio-Cortez.

One of the tactics they discussed during their sit-down meetings and in informal conversations, according to lawmakers, is how to leverage social media to keep the pressure on the GOP. So when they swarmed McConnell’s office on Tuesday, they also debuted a new hashtag: #whereismitch.

The next day, they decided to hand deliver their letter — signed by 30 House freshman — to McConnell’s office. And later that night, they took turns delivering a series of speeches on the House floor. The so-called “special order speeches” usually disappear into the C-SPAN ether, but these caught notice on Twitter.

The freshmen’s moxie has caught some veteran lawmakers by surprise.

“I was talking to a senator last night. He said he was here 16 years in the House and never stepped foot on the Senate side,” Underwood said. “We’ve been here for two weeks, and I’ve been over twice, searching all around for Sen. McConnell to say: ‘Sir, do your job.’”

The campaign hasn’t been flawless. At one point during their journey to McConnell’s office, they realized they had run out of copies of their letter and asked for one back. McConnell’s office was nice enough to print them extra copies.

The day before, the group of lawmakers hit a snag when some of their staffers forgot their ID badges and couldn’t get into the Senate after the news conference.

But members involved in the strategy sessions said they are used to the more on-the-fly approach, and dismissed the notion that their effort was simply a publicity stunt.

“We all came from grassroots campaigns that were not traditional, and they worked,” said Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.).

Some freshmen, however, prefer less confrontational tactics.

Democratic Reps. Max Rose of New York and Dean Phillips of Minnesota, who both represent swing districts, joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers for a meeting with Trump at the White House on Wednesday, though the talks yielded little progress.

Newly elected Democrats say they all share the same goal: getting the government reopened. The freshman group may meet again next week to hash out their next moves if both sides are still dug in.

“This class was sent here to shake things up,” said the 34-year-old Joe Neguse (D-Colo.). “We’re not going to sit idly by.”

John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

‘Feel like I’m going to strangle you’: Shutdown breaks Congress’ spirit


Capitol Hill

With most members headed home for a long weekend, the partial shutdown is essentially guaranteed to enter into its second month. | M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico

A dismal mood has descended on Capitol Hill as the shutdown concludes its 27th day.

The House speaker and the president are at war. A bipartisan Senate push to reopen the government failed for a second consecutive week. And no shutdown talks are even planned between party leaders.

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“I feel like I’m going to strangle you,” quipped one senator who’s tried in vain to find a breakthrough when a reporter asked about their state of mind.

That lawmaker was joking, probably, but the vibes in the Capitol are funereal at best. And with most members headed home for a long weekend, the partial shutdown is essentially guaranteed to enter into its second month. It’s an unheard-of impasse even in a capital that’s seen debt crises, blunt budget cuts and scores of unprecedented political conflicts over the past decade.

But this one feels different, a shutdown in which the dynamics are frozen. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) don’t want money for a border wall, and President Donald Trump wants $5.7 billion. Rank-and-file lawmakers can make noise and try to create momentum, but Trump has dismissed everything they’ve come up with — leading some members to wonder what they’re even doing.

“It’s very frustrating for me because my whole instinct is: Let’s find a way to get this solved. But so far anyway, his idea of negotiating is to say, ‘Here’s what I want, I’ll give you nothing,’” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who tried to forge an immigration deal a year ago. “I could sit down with Mike Pence for an afternoon and we might come to some agreement. And then [Trump would] blow it up.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has seemingly tried everything to open up the government. She’s complained publicly about her party’s strategy. She’s signed on to a bipartisan letter urging Trump to end the shutdown in exchange for a three-week immigration debate, which was promptly rejected by the White House, according to sources familiar with the talks. She’s even endorsed moving forward with no wall money.

On Thursday, her plans to travel to Europe for a conference on the Arctic had been canceled. And the Energy chairman was unsure whether she’d even be able to hold hearings next week with so many of her members out of town.

“Glum. Glum. I’m not a glum person. I’m not somebody who gets down. But I’ve been discouraged,” Murkowski said of her state of mind. “People I work for back home in Alaska are asking me to ‘fix it.’ And it’s hard for one person to fix anything around here. Unless you’re the president. Or the speaker. Or the majority leader.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) summed up his feelings in more dire terms: “We are in this horrible purgatory between heaven and hell.” He said “fatalism” had set in: “That there is no way out unless either he or we relent entirely.”

“Democrats are more than willing to try to give him a face-saving way to step down. He doesn’t seem to want to even consider it,” he said.

Some Senate Republicans were also trying to give Trump an off-ramp, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). They hoped to get as many as 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats to sign their letter to Trump, with the hopes that a substantial Democratic commitment to debating border security and a push from Trump’s own party could shift Washington’s stalemate.

But Republican support for the letter cratered this week amid a widespread belief that the president won’t support opening up the government without a border wall guarantee. The letter still might get sent, according to two people familiar with it. But nobody is superenthused.

“They came up with about nine or 10 Republicans. Which we didn’t think is enough to be convincing to the president,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

“I think he’s going to agree to open up the government on a hope and a prayer when donkeys fly. OK?” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who spent more than an hour with Trump on a plane on Monday. “He says: ‘Look, I don’t want government to be closed. But I know as soon as I open it up, they’re going to say, ‘Thank you very much, I don’t want to talk about a border [wall].’”

Pelosi herself told Trump flatly last week that after the government opened, he would not get his wall. And that’s the last time they met face to face.

Since that meeting, their relationship has plummeted to a level of toxicity rarely seen. Pelosi surprised Trump on Wednesday by sending him a letter requesting he postpone his State of the Union address — or send it in writing — until the government reopens. Pelosi cited security concerns but the move would also deny Trump the undivided spotlight and pageantry that accompanies the annual address.

Trump shot back with a counterattack of his own Thursday, abruptly canceling Pelosi’s secret trip to Afghanistan in a letter the White House blasted out to reporters over email and Twitter before the speaker’s office was even aware he was doing it. The move was so last-minute that other lawmakers scheduled to accompany Pelosi had already boarded a charter bus set to take them to the airport.

“Pretty foul,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) about his mood after hearing about the back-and-forth. “Too much childishness. Not enough seriousness.”

For Democratic freshmen, their exasperation over inaction reached a boiling point. Several members of the new House class, including many who came from districts Trump won, have been meeting to devise a strategy of their own.

Some in the group seized on the circus-like atmosphere on Capitol Hill, holding an impromptu march to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Tuesday to demand he bring up House-passed spending bills to reopen the government. Some in the group tried again on Wednesday, delivering a letter to McConnell’s office and the Senate cloakroom demanding he act.

“Our freshmen were sworn in during a shutdown and only served during a shutdown and generally speaking want to find a way to end it,” said Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas), the freshman class president. He did not join in on the trip to the Senate but said he could relate to his colleagues’ frustration.

So could Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who held an unusual solo news conference on Thursday attacking Washington dysfunction. He said “everybody’s responsible” for the shutdown but offered no solution. Another high-profile freshman, Mitt Romney (R-Utah), seemed excited about being a senator but disappointed with the circumstances.

“I heard from one senator that it was very boring his first year here. It has not been boring,” Romney said on Thursday evening. “There’s a lot going on and I’m honored to be part of it. And I’d like to see more progress. I’m sick that the government is shut down.”

Senators are throwing out their own ideas to see what sticks. Kennedy suggested Pelosi and Trump each appoint someone, ship them out of Washington and make them get an agreement before coming back. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said bringing in more pieces to negotiate could shake things up: Federal spending numbers, the debt ceiling or immigration reform.

But Democrats aren’t open to anything other than reopening the government and then debating border security, which Trump will not do. Even those most urgently seeking an end to the shutdown won’t break from that stance, worried about encouraging Trump to seek more brinkmanship to win his priorities.

“Several efforts have been made by Republican senators, by the vice president, by people in the administration to try and find a path forward. And each time in the past three weeks the president has personally shot them down,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). “Reopen the government and negotiate. Or there’s no point.”

Marianne LeVine and James Arkin contributed to this report.

White House pushes long odds strategy for wall


Mike Pence

Vice President Mike Pence and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to discuss border wall legislation. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

The White House has a new, long-shot idea for getting President Donald Trump’s border wall: persuading the Senate to take up the president’s wall request to force a deal with the Democrats, then reopen the government.

As the government shutdown enters its fifth week, the White House wants the Senate to take up legislation that would provide $5.7 billion for a barrier along the southern border, among other options that have been discussed with GOP leaders. Vice President Mike Pence and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and one option batted around was for congressional committees to take up the border request and potentially amend it in committee, all while the government is shutdown, according to a person familiar with the talks.

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But even Republicans on the Hill recognize the idea is a nonstarter. About 10 of them have been urging the White House to accept their proposal to open up the government for three weeks and allow a quick immigration and border debate, because Democrats are resisting any negotiations until government is reopened.

“If there’s not a short-term shutdown [solution] to give us the space to negotiate, the Democrats won’t negotiate,” said a GOP senator in contact with the White House. “We all know the Democrats are unwilling to talk at this point.”

The administration, the senator added, is not fully factoring in that the Senate’s 60-vote threshold will require Democratic support.

“Every time I talk to them. That’s the assumption, that they believe we can just do it,” the senator said.

The discussion among Pence, Kushner and the majority leader centered around the GOP-controlled Senate taking the lead on legislation, given that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is unwilling to take up new border security funding until the government reopens. The White House, however, has opposed a short-term spending bill to do that.

And Democrats are refusing to entertain the White House’s ideas until the funding lapse ends.

In colorful terms, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) summed up the party’s stance toward Trump: “If a kid that is screaming for an ice cream, you can’t give him an ice cream cone. Because if you give in, he’ll never eat his vegetables again.”

The lack of progress on shutdown negotiations prompted a bipartisan group of senators this week to organize a letter that asked Trump to end the shutdown for three weeks in exchange for a debate on immigration and border security. Among the senators leading the effort were Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).

The letter’s organizers hoped to get 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans to sign on — but several Republicans declined to do so, stating that Trump would not open the government without a border wall. The letter could still be sent.

Senators from both parties voiced frustration with the shutdown on Friday. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has objected to the Senate adjourning, offered by unanimous consent to bring legislation passed by the House to temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security. But Senate Republicans blocked that effort.

Ideas intended to break the impasse “seem to be pulled back by those that don’t want us to get out of the mess that we’re in,” groused Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “And I have a difficult time understanding that.”

Rep. Jackson Lee refuses to step down from CBC Foundation amid retaliation allegations


Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) has been pressured by leadership within the Congressional Black Caucus to step down. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is refusing demands to step down as leader of the Congressional Black Caucus’ nonprofit arm amid claims she fired one of her congressional staffers over rape allegations.

Jackson Lee was told by the CBC Foundation’s board to resign during a lengthy call on Thursday night, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation. Jackson Lee resisted those demands, and the call abruptly ended as other board members were trying to figure out how to continue the conversation without the Texas Democrat.

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Jackson Lee has also been pressured by leadership within the CBC to step down from her position with the foundation, according to one of the sources. The foundation’s board was expected to have another emergency call Friday night to assess the situation.

Jackson Lee’s office declined to comment on the call, with her spokesman Robin Chand saying in an email, “I don’t know anything about this (as they’re separate entities).” A spokesperson for the CBC did not return POLITICO’s calls and emails Friday requesting a response.

“Yesterday’s board call was closed,” CJ Epps, a spokesman for the CBCF, said via email. “I’m not privy to their discussions and therefore can’t comment.”

Following Jackson Lee’s refusal to step aside, at least one board member stepped down, and sources with knowledge of the situation say more are expected to follow if Lee remains. Cathy Hughes, a media executive and entrepreneur, resigned from the board, according to the two sources. Hughes, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Several lawmakers are also on the board, including Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.).

A spokeswoman for Cleaver declined to comment. The other members’ offices did not immediately return requests for comment about whether they will remain on the board if Jackson Lee does not step aside.

According to the lawsuit at the center of the controversy, the former staffer, identified only as Jane Doe, alleges that she was fired from Jackson Lee’s office last year after she indicated that she wanted to pursue legal action against a man whom she says raped her when she was an intern for the CBCF. The man worked as intern coordinator for the CBCF at the time of the alleged incident.

Glenn Rushing, Jackson Lee’s chief of staff, told BuzzFeed News that the woman “was not wrongfully terminated.” Jackson Lee’s office said in a statement that it “adamantly denies the allegations that it retaliated against, or otherwise improperly treated, the plaintiff.”

The lawsuit was filed earlier this month, but the alleged rape occurred in October 2015. The woman says she reported the alleged incident to the police and told, among others, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.). Sewell’s office did not return an immediate request for comment.

Jackson Lee has been a top proponent of the Violence Against Women Act, which lapsed amid the ongoing partial government shutdown. The landmark legislation funds resources for victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes against women. The 13-term Texas congresswoman, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, was also in line for a subcommittee gavel in the new Democratic majority.

Her refusal to bow to pressure to resign as chair of the CBCF board could jeopardize her efforts in both of those areas.

Dems still fear Barr interference in Mueller probe despite promises of independence


Sen. Kamala Harris questions Attorney General nominee William Barr.

“I have real concerns about his ability to follow the advice of the career people in terms of any issue that might arise related to the Mueller investigation,” said Sen. Kamala Harris. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Congress

‘I think he was speaking to an audience of one: the president of the United States,’ says Sen. Mazie Hirono.

Senate Democrats remain largely skeptical of William Barr for attorney general after he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, underscoring the partisan fight over his nomination won’t be ending any time soon.

Much of their resistance centers on lingering uncertainty on how Barr would handle special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign. Barr this week pledged that he wouldn’t interfere with Mueller’s probe and vowed to be as transparent under the law as possible.

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But for many Senate Democrats on the committee, it wasn’t enough.

“His top lines about the Mueller investigation were all terrific, really respects Mueller, not a witch hunt, going to make it as transparent as possible not going to interfere, all great stuff,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) “Once you get into the weeds, it got a lot more problematic.”

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already said he will oppose Barr’s nomination. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), said that she remains troubled over Barr’s statement that he’d reject ethics officials’ guidance on recusing from the Mueller probe if he disagreed with their advice.

“I have real concerns about his ability to follow the advice of the career people in terms of any issue that might arise related to the Mueller investigation,” Harris said in an interview after Barr’s confirmation hearing.

Barr doesn’t need Democratic votes to get confirmed by the Senate — he only needs a simple majority. But the lack of Democratic support for his nomination is in stark contrast to the unanimous vote he got in being confirmed as attorney general during President George H.W. Bush’s administration.

Barr’s nomination hearing was dominated by questions about Mueller’s investigation, which the president has repeatedly derided as a “witch hunt.” During the hearing, Barr disagreed with that characterization but said he could understand the president’s perspective. Some senators say his assurances weren’t convincing.

“I think he was speaking to an audience of one: the president of the United States,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii.).

Schumer told reporters after he met with Barr Wednesday that he was dissatisfied with the nominee’s responses on Mueller’s investigation. Specifically, Schumer was wary of Barr’s commitment to release the special counsel’s findings. He also said Barr wouldn’t pledge to not limit witnesses in the investigation.

“Despite the fact that there were some nice words in the hearing, we do not have the kind of strong and clear commitments to the report being issued and there being no interference in the investigation that are needed — particularly now with President Trump treating the Justice Department as he has,” Schumer said.

Trump had a fractious relationship with his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, after Sessions recused himself from the Mueller investigation. As the country’s top law enforcement official, Barr would oversee the special counsel’s work.

Senate Judiciary ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was more satisfied than others with Barr’s answers on Mueller, but said Wednesday that her vote for Barr would depend on a commitment that the Mueller report be made public.

“His answers were good, he clearly understands the need for independence and the importance of protecting the department as well as Mr. Mueller from political interference,” Feinstein said. But she added Barr’s “answers on providing a report to Congress at the end of the special counsel investigation were confusing.” Feinstein said she plans to follow up with Barr in writing.

But Democrats took issue with other aspects of Barr’s testimony, including his statements on immigration and position on jailing journalists.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that Barr’s hearing left a lot of “unanswered questions,” adding that he worried about Barr’s position on immigration issues. During his confirmation hearing, Barr agreed with Trump’s calls for more barriers at the southern border and said that sanctuary cities encouraged “illegal aliens” to come in. He also described the border as a “major avenue” for drugs entering the United States.

Durbin said that Barr’s responses on immigration “followed the Trump line and ignored in many cases the reality.”

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a moderate Democrat who does not sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, echoed a similar sentiment, saying he was uneasy with Barr’s statements on drugs coming into the United States.

“On the drugs coming through — they come through the ports and for him not to know that as the No. 1 law enforcement official in the country is disturbing,” Tester said.

And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) voiced concern about Barr’s response when she asked whether the Justice Department would [she used the word will] jail reporters for doing their jobs. Barr said that he “could conceive of situations where as a last resort … there could be a situation where someone would be held in contempt” if the reporting would harm the country. Klobuchar noted later in an interview that there was a “long pause before deciding whether he would put you in jail.”

Despite frustration among Democrats about Barr’s answers on Mueller, he appears to have strong support from Senate Republicans. Durbin said in an interview that his Republican colleagues told him after the hearing “you’re not going to get anybody better than this.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) seems to agree. After the first day of the hearing ended Tuesday, Graham said he hoped that Barr would pick up some Democratic votes. Graham noted that he voted for President Barack Obama’s attorney general nominees Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, not because he agreed with them but because they were qualified.

“I hope they will do what I did,” Graham said. “I think Mr. Barr is qualified by any reasonable standard and if he’s not qualified I don’t know who they’re ever going to pick.”

‘We Call Ourselves the Badasses’: Meet the New Women of Congress


Women of the 116th Congress

Photographs Jason Grow

Congress

The history-making class of new women on Capitol Hill is here, and its members have a lot to say.

When millions of women took to the streets the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration for the largest single-day protest in American history, they were galvanized by a frustration with our nation’s politics and culture. Two years later, that energy and anger have been translated into an unprecedented number of electoral victories for women—mostly Democratic—in the recent midterm elections.

When 27 new women were ushered into the House and Senate in 1992, pundits deemed it the “Year of the Woman.” In 2018, that record was shattered, and now, for the first time ever, more than 100 women have been sworn in to the House of Representatives, just over a century after the first woman was sworn in to Congress in 1917.

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POLITICO Magazine recently photographed and interviewed all 36 freshman women in the 116th Congress. In addition to being the youngest and most diverse freshman class Capitol Hill has ever seen, the group includes a number of state and national firsts—from the first Muslim women to the first Native American women. Not that they’re bragging about it. “None of us ran to be the first anything,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) told POLITICO. “We ran to make a difference. We ran to make change. It’s nice to make history, too, but that’s not why we ran.”

Some of these women have already come out swinging against the president. Others told POLITICO that they’re hopeful the influx of women will lead to a more cooperative and bipartisan legislature. They all, however, seem to hope and believe that their presence will fundamentally change how Washington works. And they’ve already begun.

Click here to see what all 36 new female members of the House had to say.

Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.)

Both Ayanna Pressley and Jahana Hayes are the first African-American women to be elected to Congress from their respective states.

“These times require activist leadership,” Pressley said. “The job description for Congress has changed, and I believe I can bring that brand of leadership—activist leadership—in sort of navigating this new dichotomy of how to resist and how to progress at the same time.”

“With us at the table, Congress will be forced to remember that it’s not just about line items and budgets, but about how these things impact people’s lives,” said Hayes.

Carol Miller (R-W. Va.)

Rep. Carol Miller is the only new Republican woman elected to Congress in the midterms. Though multiple Republican women were recently elected or appointed to the Senate, they had all served in the previous session.

“Women hold so many positions—as wives and mothers and fully employed—that it takes a special woman who’s willing to go out of that zone, so to speak, to step into public service. Because when you do, your life is never the same.”

Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Tex.)

Reps. Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia are the first Latinas elected to Congress from Texas. “We really have to get the country back on track in many respects. There’s so much at stake with climate change, immigration, health care,” Escobar said. “We’ve got to focus on those issues that are critical to our constituents and the American public, and we’ve got to drown out the noise and negativity so that we can get work done.”

“The good news is this Congress will be the first of more to come,” Garcia told us. “The goal would be for two more Latinas to come from Texas, for New Mexico to send another Native American woman, and to make sure more women—especially women of color—continue to have a seat at the table.”

Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa) and Cindy Axne (D-Iowa)

Reps. Abby Finkenauer, the second-youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and Cindy Axne are the first women elected to the House of Representatives from Iowa.

“We were promised: You work hard, you can make it. And unfortunately that promise has seemed to be broken in America,” Finkenauer said. “That’s what’s on the line here, and that’s the kind of perspective that I want to make sure we are talking about and we’re bringing up.”

“It’s important that a Democratic Midwest voice is heard,” Axne told us. “The heartland issues in our rural communities in particular need to take priority or a lot of the economic growth in this country will falter. We really rely on our small towns much more so than people think.”

Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Debra Haaland (D-N.M.)

Reps. Sharice Davids (left) and Debra Haaland are the first two Native American women elected to Congress. Davids is also the first LGBTQ person elected to Congress from Kansas.

“I think the real effects of what happened this election cycle will not be seen until generations from now, because this is the beginning of a resetting of expectations about who runs for office, why they run for office and where they run for office from,” Davids said.

“I know what it’s like to be on food stamps, what it’s like to teach my daughter to ride the public bus, what it’s like to piece together health care,” Haaland told us. “I think when you’ve lived struggle, you can identify more with the struggles of average Americans.”