Politics ESSENTIAL WASHINGTON

Essential Washington

Here's our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington.

In Ireland, Pence tells U.S. troops to forget the shutdown and focus on their mission

Vice President Mike Pence prepares to address March for Life participants from the Rose Garden. (Scalzo / EPA / Shutterstock)
Vice President Mike Pence prepares to address March for Life participants from the Rose Garden. (Scalzo / EPA / Shutterstock)

En route to Cairo for a Mideast tour, Vice President Mike Pence shook hands and chatted with U.S. service members Saturday during a stop to refuel Air Force Two at Shannon Airport in Ireland.

Pence will visit three Middle East nations. 

As the vice president took photos with some of the troops, he brought up the U.S. government shutdown, which began at midnight Friday. 

“We’ll get this thing figured out in Washington,” Pence said. “You guys stay focused on your mission.”

Pence wore a navy blue jacket with “Air Force Two” and the vice presidential seal embroidered on it. 

Pence told service members his grandfather grew up in Ireland and he was about their age when he first flew through Shannon Airport. 

Several dozen Air Force personnel were in the airport terminal in transit to assignments overseas. Some troops were based out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado and were headed to Kuwait for a six-month deployment. 

Pence said he heard a number of soldiers bring up the shutdown. 

“It’s disappointing to every American that Democrats in the Senate would shut down the government when we have troops in harms way,” he said.

“These soldiers deserve better.” 

Government shutdown won't stop Women's March in D.C.

 (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

More than 5,000 people are expected to converge at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington for the city’s Women’s March on Saturday. Despite the fact that the land is overseen by the National Park Service – an agency affected by the 2013 government shutdown — the march will continue.

The park service previously put a plan in place that restricted a government shutdown from affecting activities protected by the 1st Amendment. The Women’s March falls under that description.

The Times will be covering anniversary events this weekend. Follow coverage here.

White House on shutdown: 'This is the behavior of obstructionist losers'

 (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
(Alex Wong / Getty Images)

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued this statement as the clock struck midnight and the federal government began shutting down when the Senate failed to pass a funding measure:

“Senate Democrats own the Schumer Shutdown. Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans. We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands,” Sanders said.

“This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators. When Democrats start paying our armed forces and first responders we will reopen negotiations on immigration reform,” she said. “During this politically manufactured Schumer Shutdown, the President and his Administration will fight for and protect the American people.”

White House press secretary blames Democrats, 38 minutes before a shutdown

With shutdown highly possible, all eyes are on the Senate

Congress

Prosecutors say they will retry New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

The government has told a federal judge in New Jersey it will seek a retrial of Sen. Robert Menendez, whose 11-week corruption trial ended in a hung jury in November.

The filing to the judge on Friday seeks a retrial of the Democrat "at the earliest possible date."

Menendez and a longtime friend, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, were charged with a bribery scheme in which Menendez traded political favors for gifts and campaign donations.

Menendez also was charged with making false statements on his Senate financial disclosure forms.

Defense lawyers argued that the gifts including luxury vacations were an expression of the pair's longtime friendship and weren't bribes.

Several jurors interviewed after the first trial said as many as 10 members of the panel were in favor of acquittal.

CongressWhite House

Scenes from the White House as clock ticks toward government shutdown

 (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump walked out of the Oval Office and stood alone under a portico shortly after noon on Friday, just before addressing the anti-abortion March for Life rally.

Just feet away from his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, Trump looked especially pensive, his face tight, before breaking into a half-smile when he spotted a nearby toddler who had come to the Rose Garden with a select group of activists from the rally.

Trump said nothing about the potential of a partial government shutdown looming at midnight, in what was his only scheduled public appearance of the day. But aides in the West Wing were noticeably tense, moving quickly from meeting to meeting as they wondered how the day would unfold.

One White House official described Trump’s state of mind as “resolute,” reflecting his certainty that Democrats would be blamed for any shutdown, particularly those “auditioning for 2020.”

“We don’t want the government to shut down,” added the official, who declined to be named discussing the sensitive standoff. As a “non-politician,” Trump was frustrated by negotiating with the fractious Congress, the official said. (Members of Congress, in both parties, have expressed their own frustrations with Trump’s negotiating style.)

The official spoke just before Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader and Trump’s fellow native of New York’s outer boroughs, arrived for a last-ditch attempt to break the stalemate.

Marc Short, Trump’s legislative director, and Mick Mulvaney, his budget director, told reporters that Trump was busy calling lawmakers from both parties. “He will continue to do that,” Short said.

Both men insisted that the issue for which Democrats were holding out — a reprieve for roughly 700,000 immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, and now facing deportation — could be left until March 5, the effective date for Trump’s September order ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

Mulvaney said the chance of a shutdown had moved up to 50% or more. “We were operating under a sort of 30% shutdown up until yesterday, I think it's ratcheted up now,” he said. 

Trump put off departing for his weekend trip to his Florida resort Friday afternoon, but did not cancel it entirely.

Trump left on his calendar a planned gala Saturday at Mar-a-Lago to celebrate the anniversary of his inauguration. Tickets had been sold, for at least $100,000 a pair, to benefit his reelection campaign and the Republican Party. 

CongressWhite House

Trump appointing judges at rapid pace

 (Los Angeles Times)
(Los Angeles Times)

One year into his presidency, Donald Trump is among the most successful presidents when it comes to appointing federal judges.

A Times data analysis found Trump is ranked No. 6 of 19 presidents appointing the highest number of federal judges in their first year.

READ MORE

Democrats ready to move beyond Clinton, but have no strong favorite in presidential race

Two years after presidential primaries laid bare divisions in the Democratic Party, its voters remain in a muddle over whom they favor in the 2020 election, torn between a trio of veterans but unattached at this point to any of a fresh generation of potential candidates, a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll has found.

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 nominee who has said repeatedly that she will not run for president again, ranked third among those planning to cast ballots in the Democratic primary with 19%, suggesting little in the way of a groundswell for a third campaign. She trailed former Vice President Joe Biden, at 28%, and was virtually tied with her 2016 challenger, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, at 22%.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was favored by 11%, and a host of additional candidates were all in single digits.

CongressImmigrationWhite House

Government shutdown looms as stopgap spending measure appears likely to stall in the Senate

With a morning tweet, President Trump added confusion to the effort to avert a federal shutdown. (Saul Loeb / AFP-Getty Images) None
With a morning tweet, President Trump added confusion to the effort to avert a federal shutdown. (Saul Loeb / AFP-Getty Images)

A government shutdown appeared likely after Congress deadlocked over a proposed four-week stopgap spending bill to keep federal offices open past Friday’s deadline.

After the House late Thursday passed the measure, 230 to 197, with strong Republican support, the bill was headed for probable defeat in the Senate amid opposition from most Democrats and a few Republicans.

The setback sends the White House and congressional leaders back to the negotiating table in a frantic search for a compromise.

Democrats are rejecting the package because it lacks an immigration deal to protect so-called “Dreamers” from deportation.

White House

Trump delays trip to Mar-a-Lago and tweets 'Shutdown coming?'

 (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

President Trump suggested a government shutdown was “coming” in a tweet early Friday as lawmakers scrambled to patch together a last-minute spending deal by midnight Eastern time, a task complicated by the president’s remarks.

A White House official said Trump would not leave for his private club Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., until a bill passes, though his public schedule released Thursday night had him leaving Friday afternoon despite the shutdown threat. At Mar-a-Lago, he planned to celebrate the anniversary of his inauguration on Saturday with a gala Republican fundraiser.

Congress appears deadlocked over a proposed four-week stopgap funding bill to keep government offices open past Friday’s deadline. 

Trump tweeted that Democrats want “illegal immigration and weak borders” as a condition for keeping the government operating. Most Democrats say they will reject any spending bill that does not include a deal protecting so-called Dreamers brought to the country illegally as children from deportation. Trump and many Republicans have said they support protection for the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers as well.  

Trump wrote on Twitter (misspelling “passed”): “Government Funding Bill past last night in the House of Representatives. Now Democrats are needed if it is to pass in the Senate — but they want illegal immigration and weak borders. Shutdown coming? We need more Republican victories in 2018!” 

As Trump's first year in office ends, his support base has eroded and the opposition is energized

Donald Trump began his presidency a polarizing figure; he ends his first year a beleaguered one.

As the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration approaches on Saturday, the president’s support has eroded, his opposition has gained energy and his party faces bleak prospects for the midterm elections in November, according to a new USC-Dornsife/Los Angeles Times nationwide poll.

Just under one-third of those polled, 32%, approved of Trump’s job performance, compared with 55% who disapproved and 12% who were neutral. That 23-point deficit represents a significant decline since April and the last USC/L.A. Times national poll, which found Trump with a 7-point approval deficit, 40% to 47%.

Trump's lawyers urge Supreme Court to reject DACA ruling by California judge

President Trump and Atty.Gen. Jeff Sessions. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
President Trump and Atty.Gen. Jeff Sessions. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Justice Department lawyers filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on Thursday evening asking the justices to review and reverse the ruling by a federal judge in California that President Trump may not end the Obama-era program that protects so-called Dreamers from deportation.

But they did not ask the high court to issue an immediate emergency order to put the judge’s ruling on hold.

Instead, Solicitor Gen. Noel Francisco said the court should agree to decide the case soon and issue a ruling by the summer.

That approach, which Justice Department officials signaled earlier this week, has struck many lawyers as curious. Typically, when the administration is upset about a judge issuing a national injunction, it files an emergency motion seeking to block the judge’s order.

This time, however, the Justice Department said it was only seeking a review of the ruling, a process that usually takes many months.

It is possible the White House prefers to keep the judge’s order in place for now because it gives the president and lawmakers more time to agree on a legislative solution to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which Trump wants to end.  

Still, U.S. District Judge William Alsup surprised the administration and congressional leaders last week when he decided the government must “maintain DACA in the same manner” as before.

Under DACA, nearly 800,000 young migrants who came to this country as children have received work permits and protection from deportation.

President Obama announced the program in 2012 and said it rested on the chief executive’s authority to set enforcement policies under the immigration laws.

But in September, Trump said he intended to end the program because Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions said it amounted to “an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.” Trump said he would give Congress until March 5 to devise a new policy.

Several California officials, including University of California President Janet Napolitano, sued to challenge Trump’s action.

Normally, the government would appeal a district judge’s decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In Thursday’s filing, the solicitor general said the Supreme Court should bypass the 9th Circuit and take up the case directly.

 

Mulvaney requests zero funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

In his first quarterly funding request as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mick Mulvaney is asking for nothing.

“This letter is to inform you that for the Second Quarter of Fiscal Year 2018, the Bureau is requesting $0,” he wrote Wednesday to Janet L. Yellen, chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, which provides the watchdog agency’s funding.

Mulvaney said that the bureau had enough money on hand to cover its anticipated $145 million in expenses for the quarter, which began Jan. 1, and that he plans to slash the bureau’s reserve fund.

White House

Senate votes to renew government surveillance program without privacy reforms

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Michael Reynolds / EPA/Shutterstock)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Michael Reynolds / EPA/Shutterstock)

The federal government’s controversial warrantless surveillance program is poised for a six-year extension over the loud objections of privacy advocates after the Senate approved reauthorization Thursday.

The Senate measure renewing Section 702 of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act makes only marginal changes to the program, which has been a source of heated debate since former federal contractor Edward Snowden exposed its reach in 2013.

Under the bill, which passed 65-34, law enforcement would need to obtain warrants only in narrow circumstances. Agents still would have broad authority to perform warrantless searches of the emails and texts of Americans, even if they are not the targets of terrorist investigations.

The Senate measure now heads to President Trump’s desk, as the House already has passed a similar bill. Trump is expected to sign it into law. The directors of all the major federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies had urged lawmakers not to make major revisions in renewing the surveillance authority, which expires today if the president does not act.

The reauthorization was nearly derailed earlier this week as a coalition of lawmakers on the right and left demanded broad new requirements for warrants when such searches are conducted. Among those making such demands was California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, long a fierce ally of the program. But Feinstein wavered amid a tense Senate floor fight and ultimately cast a vote that enabled supporters of keeping the program largely as-is to shut down debate on broader warrant requirements.

Opponents of the surveillance program vowed to carry on their fight to curb the program. “Rubber-stamping this awful bill is a dereliction of duty by a Congress that has a responsibility to protect Americans’ freedoms, as well as our country’s security,” said a statement from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “The battle to protect Americans from unnecessary government spying isn’t over.”

White House

Mexico fights back against false Trump tweet, says it 'will not negotiate' through social networks

President Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, last year. (Saul Loeb / Agence France Presse /Getty Images)
President Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, last year. (Saul Loeb / Agence France Presse /Getty Images)

President Trump falsely claimed in a tweet Thursday morning that Mexico is “now rated the number one most dangerous country in the world.”

A border wall between the United States and Mexico is needed, Trump said, “for the safety and security of our country.”

A few hours later, the Mexican government fought back to challenge Trump’s facts. 

The country released a statement — emailed to journalists, not posted on social media — that corrected Trump’s error and took the United States to task for its role in Mexico’s violence.

“Although Mexico has a significant problem of violence, it is openly false that Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world,” said the statement, released by Mexico’s Foreign Ministry.

The statement noted that while bloodshed is on the rise in Mexico — the country recorded more homicides in 2017 than in any year on record — other nations, including Venezuela and El Salvador, have much higher homicide rates.

The statement also pointed out what the Mexican government believes are major drivers of its violence: U.S. guns and U.S. demand for drugs.

“We reiterate that it is a shared problem that will only end if its root causes are addressed,” the statement said. “Only based on the principles of shared responsibility, teamwork and mutual trust can we overcome this challenge.”

The Mexican statement also addressed construction of a border wall, which Trump has for years insisted he will build, and force Mexico to fund it. 

“As the Mexican government has always maintained, our country will not pay, in any way and under any circumstance, for a wall or physical barrier along the border with Mexico,” it said. The wall issue, the statement said, is “a principle of national sovereignty and dignity.”

The statement ended with Mexico affirming that its diplomatic relations with the U.S., including ongoing negotiations to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement, must take place through traditional channels. 

“Mexico will not negotiate NAFTA, nor any other aspect of the bilateral relationship, through social networks or the media,” it said.

White House walks back another Trump tweet to avoid forcing the GOP to pay for his travel

 (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

The White House press office was once again forced to walk back a tweet from President Trump on Thursday morning after he described a trip to Pennsylvania later in the day as a political one — a statement that would force the Republican Party, not taxpayers, to pay for the journey.

The White House had said Trump was going to an industrial equipment company outside of Pittsburgh to highlight the good economy and new tax cuts, making it an official, policy-oriented event.

It was widely assumed that the trip had a political cast — the area is holding a special election to fill a congressional seat vacated by a Republican who resigned. Trump, by his tweet, seemed to confirm that politics was the whole purpose.

He wrote before 8 a.m. EST that he “will be going to Pennsylvania today in order to give my total support to RICK SACCONE” — the Republican candidate in the special election next month.

The Republican National Committee, rather than the White House, is supposed to pay for political travel so that taxpayers are not financing party activities; for trips that combine policy and politics, parties have split the cost under past presidents. Neither the RNC nor the White House responded to emails sent Thursday asking who would pay.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement later Thursday suggesting that taxpayers would foot the bill. She insisted that Trump will be conducting government business while in Pennsylvania.

"The President is enthusiastic about today's trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to discuss the incredible successes his tax plan is already achieving for the American people,” the statement said.

“While the President has made clear his support for Republican candidates throughout the country, including in Pennsylvania, the purpose of today's visit is to promote the President's successful agenda especially on taxes."

White House

Trump wants to kill two immigration programs, but doesn't seem to know how they work

 (Evan Vucci / AP)
(Evan Vucci / AP)

As television cameras were allowed to roll during a lengthy immigration meeting at the White House last week, President Trump groused to lawmakers about how 50,000 people each year get coveted green cards through a visa program he wants to kill.

Countries “put names in a hopper,” Trump said. Then American officials “put their hand in a bowl” and draw out the “worst of the worst.”

One problem: That’s not how it works. Nor is Trump accurate when he describes a second immigration program, which he calls “chain migration” but which advocates describe as family reunification.

White House

All in a morning's tweets: Trump undermines House GOP leaders, his chief of staff and his press secretary

 (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

In a series of tweets Thursday morning, President Trump undercut a deal by Republican lawmakers to keep the government open past Friday and contradicted his chief of staff’s comments that Trump had “evolved” on his promised border wall.

By slamming the proposed government-funding plan, Trump also undermined his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who told reporters Wednesday that the president supported the Republicans’ strategy. Their bill would provide short-term funding for government operations and, to attract votes, reauthorize a popular health insurance program for children in low-income families.

But Trump wrote on Twitter, using the program’s acronym: “CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!” 

Republican leaders in Congress already were scrambling to gather votes for their plan to fund the government for another month until a longer-term deal can be made on federal spending and immigration. Trump’s comments raised the odds of a shutdown.

Trump also pushed back against his own chief of staff, John F. Kelly, who had told lawmakers Wednesday that Trump’s border wall promise was “uninformed” and Mexico unlikely to pay for it. Kelly repeated his comments during a Fox News interview Wednesday night, saying Trump had “evolved” and changed his views on “a number of things” since entering the White House.

Politicians take campaign positions that “may or may not be fully informed” Kelly told Fox News on Wednesday night.  

“Campaigning and governing are two different things and this president has been very, very flexible in terms of what is in the realm of the possible,” Kelly said. 

But Trump, in a note of discord with his top-ranking aide, denied he’s “evolved” on building a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water.”

One year in, Trump's environmental agenda is already taking a measurable toll

A massive coal ash spill near Knoxville, Tenn., in 2008 forever changed life for Janie Clark’s family and left her husband with crippling health problems. So Clark was astounded late last year when she heard what the Environmental Protection Agency had done.

In September, at the behest of power companies, the agency shelved a requirement that coal plants remove some of the most toxic chemicals from their wastewater. The infamous Kingston power plant that released millions of cubic yards of toxic coal ash into area rivers was among some 50 plants given a reprieve.

After the EPA’s action, the plant’s owners delayed new wastewater treatment technology for at least two years.

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