During a speech at Stanford University on Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said US forces will remain in Syria even after ISIS is fully defeated. There are currently around 2,000 US troops in Syria, building fortifications and training local units, along with military contractors who are de-mining former ISIS strongholds. Tillerson made the case that a continued US presence in the country would be needed to ensure that neither Iran nor Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seize power in the territory formerly occupied by ISIS. The Trump administration has continued the Obama administration policy of pushing for a democratically elected Syrian government, and the removal of Assad from power. Tillerson added that the American mission in Syria would remain “conditions-based” and is not indefinite. – NYT
The Trump administration has proposed giving broad new powers to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) civil rights office, allowing them to shield health care workers who express moral or religious objections to certain services. The new rule would create a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within HHS, dedicated to protecting health care workers with moral or religious objections to treatments including abortions and transition procedures for transgender patients. The HHS civil rights office has largely focused until now on protecting civil rights and the privacy of patients. Patient advocacy groups and civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, have vowed to legally challenge the rule change should it move forward. Under President George W. Bush, previous protections for health workers with moral and religious objections were instated; these were later rewritten by the Obama administration. – POLITICO
A bipartisan group of Senators has unveiled an immigration proposal that apparently was privately rejected by President Trump last week. The proposal provides $2.705 billion in funding for border security, makes Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) permanent, eliminates the visa lottery and places limits on family-based immigration to the US (sometimes known as "chain migration"). The bill was introduced by Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, along with a collective of other Senators representing both parties. Should it gain unanimous support from Democrats, it would appear to already have enough Republican support to pass the Senate. The bill is apparently the same one that was presented to President Trump last week in an Oval Office session, sparking his alleged, controversial comment about "sh*thole countries." – CNN
Steve Bannon will testify on Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its ongoing probe into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election. Bannon will deliver his testimony behind closed doors. The New York Times also reported on Tuesday that Bannon has been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his Russia investigation, and may be compelled to testify before a grand jury. It's likely that he will be asked about his time managing the Trump campaign, and in particular a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian attorney at Trump Tower in June 2016. In the recent Michael Wolff book "Fire & Fury," Bannon describes the meeting as "treasonous." Following the publication of "Fire & Fury," Bannon lost support from a number of his high-profile donors, as well as his position at Breitbart News. Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and current White House communications director Hope Hicks, will allegedly also be called to testify before the House committee this week. – LAT
President Trump received a thorough physical exam on Friday, and some of the results will be released today. Following the exam, White House physician Ronny Jackson declared that the 71-year-old President is in "excellent health." Trump's medical check likely included a blood panel, looking at the health of his liver and kidneys and screening for illnesses like diabetes and Hepatitis-C, along with a lipid panel to check his cholesterol. Though they're not standard, it's also possible that the President had a colonoscopy or an EKG performed. The results of the exam are the property of President Trump, who can determine what - if any - information he wants to release publicly. Former President Obama released the results of his medical exams, which were also performed by Dr. Jackson. – NBCNEWS
North Korea's official news agency has responded to President Trump's tweet about having his own nuclear button, calling him a "lunatic." The statement goes on to refer to Trump as a "loser" and a "psychopath." The comments refer to Trump's tweet from January 2, which was itself a response to a comment made by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on New Year's Day. Trump declared "I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!" Following the exchange, North and South Korea agreed to participate in high-level talks. – WAPO
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to ban Haitian immigrants from applying for seasonal or work visas in the US. The ban would extend to those from Belize and Samoa as well. In a regulatory filing that was posted to the internet, the department explained the change by charging that immigrants from Haiti “have historically demonstrated high levels of fraud and abuse and a high rate of overstaying the terms." (Belize was impacted because of human trafficking concerns, while Samoa has refused to accept citizens that the US wishes to deport.) Last week, the President was accused of referring to Haiti, along with El Salvador and African nations, as "sh*thole" countries during a meeting with lawmakers. He has since denied making the comment. – ABCNEWS
On Twitter, President Trump has pushed back against the suggestion, made by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, that his original plan for a border wall with Mexico was not "fully informed." The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that, during a meeting with Democratic lawmakers, Kelly referred to some of Trump's immigration proposals from the campaign trail as "uninformed." Specifically, Kelly referred to the idea of a wall spanning the entire US-Mexico border. Speaking to Bret Baier on Fox News, also on Wednesday, Kelly did not deny the Post report, noting that the President "has changed the way he's looked at a number of things." However, in a series of tweets on Thursday, the President contradicted Kelly's remarks, saying his plan for the border wall "has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it." Trump went on to suggest that his campaign promise to have Mexico fund the wall's construction would be achieved by renegotiating NAFTA. – WAPO
President Trump announced the winners of his "Fake News Awards" on Wednesday evening, handing out prizes to 10 articles from organizations including CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times. A number of the posts highlighted by Trump, who tweeted out a blog post from the Republican National Committee naming the "winners," were indeed articles that were later disproven or retracted. These include an ABC News report concerning Michael Flynn's testimony in the Russia probe, which later led to the suspension of correspondent Brian Ross, and a post from TIME about the supposed removal of a bust of Martin Luther King from the Oval Office. The RNC post also criticized ongoing media coverage of the Trump-Russia investigations, and called out an opinion piece from Times columnist Paul Krugman predicting that a Trump electoral victory would cause the stock market to crash. The awards had been delayed for 9 days, and the RNC website experienced connectivity issues in the hours after they were posted. – USAT
IN-DEPTH: THE POTENTIAL FOR A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN
As we've already covered in Inside Trump, the government is currently funded through Friday, and will need to pass some kind of spending bill to keep things running after that. Republicans have proposed a stopgap bill that would fund the government through February 16, and attached a six-year extension on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to make the vote more appealing to Democratic lawmakers. The stopgap bill would also delay some taxes related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It's the fourth stopgap bill to be proposed since September, the end of the previous fiscal year.
CHIP was initiated under President Bill Clinton, and federal funding for the program was allowed to lapse last year. Ever since, it has been a key part of the Democratic platform. A number of Republican leaders have emphasized the importance of re-authorizing CHIP funding, as a way to encourage "yes" votes on the overall spending bill. House Speaker Paul Ryan said that Democratic opposition to the bill, including the six-year CHIP extension, was “unconscionable." Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argued that, as the bill would provide the funding Democrats have long requested, "it seems to me it would be a rather attractive package."
Democratic leadership, however, has argued that the new bill would also have to resolve the situation concerning the "Dreamers," whose future is left uncertain by President Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that DACA was "probably dead" because Democrats refused to reach a deal that would keep the program going. Nonetheless, the Trump administration has resumed accepting DACA renewal applications, after a federal judge in California temporarily blocked attempts to end the program entirely.
Early Thursday morning, President Trump tweeted "CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!" By indicating that he may oppose a stopgap bill, even though it includes funding for CHIP, Trump thus implied that he was siding with Democrats, or at least was poking a hole in the argument Republicans have been making. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn responded that the President may not have understood "that what we’re trying to do is reauthorize CHIP long term, not just 30 days."
The stopgap bill is still thought to have enough support to potentially pass through the House, and a vote could come on Thursday afternoon. The prospects of passing through the Senate, however, appear a bit less likely. On Thursday morning, Trump told reporters on the steps of the Pentagon that he felt a government shutdown was a possibility, and preemptively blamed the Democrats should it occur.
President Trump thanked Hawaiian state officials who took responsibility for the weekend's false missile alarm. On Saturday, following an error made by a staff member at Hawaii's emergency management agency, smartphones in Hawaii informed locals of an incoming ballistic missile, creating a temporary panic until a correction could be issued. President Trump was golfing at the time of the incident, and was briefed on it about an hour later. The President did not respond publicly until Sunday, when he explained that Hawaiian officials "made a mistake" and added "I love that they took responsibility. They took total responsibility. But we're going to get involved." Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said that, though the state takes responsibility for the inaccurate warning message, the larger problem is President Trump's policy of brinksmanship with North Korea. On Tuesday, a similar false alarm was issued by a public broadcaster in Japan. – CNN
Watchdog group Public Citizen has released a new report accusing President Trump of "unprecedented conflicts of interest." Though Trump has not divested from the Trump Organization, the report alleges that trade groups, foreign governments, politicians and lobbyists frequently spend money and hold events at the company's many properties worldwide, potentially to curry favor with the President. For example, representatives of the governments of Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have all held events at the Trump International Hotel in Washington during Trump's first year in office. 24 different groups backing Republican candidates for Congress have held events (typically fundraisers) at the same hotel. – REUTERS
GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN AND THE DACA DEBATE
Congress has until Friday to pass a new spending bill that would continue to fund the government, averting a shutdown. Several compromises would need to be reached before then, including disaster aid packages for states impacted by recent hurricanes, the possible expansion of budget caps first set in 2011 and funding for the President's proposed border wall with Mexico.
But the biggest sticking point remains the DACA program, and whether to allow the 800,000 "Dreamers" (who were brought to the US illegally as children) to remain in the country. A number of Democrats have vowed not to support any bill funding the government that does not resolve the DACA issue.
Though the Trump administration announced the end of DACA in September, this decision has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge in California, and US Citizenship and Immigration Services has once more started accepting renewal applications.
Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted that "DACA is probably dead," blaming Democratic leaders who "don't really want it." Trump has frequently accused the Democrats of pushing for a shutdown because they don't want to fund the US military. (A shutdown impacts services considered "non-essential," which doesn't include defense spending, but future funding for the military is part of the current budget negotiations.) In comments made on Sunday evening during a photo op with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Trump signaled that he's "ready and willing to make a deal" on DACA. On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan predicted a shutdown would be averted, even without a viable DACA compromise. (He further suggested that Republicans would hold off on pursuing "entitlement reform" in 2018.)
It was during a DACA meeting on Thursday with Congressional leadership that Trump allegedly made his now-infamous comments about immigrants coming to the US from so-called "sh*thole countries," using Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as examples. Trump has since denied making the comments, despite confirmation from several Democratic lawmakers, and insisted to reporters on Sunday that he's "the least racist person you've ever interviewed." Georgia Republican Sen. David Purdue has called the controversy a "gross misrepresentation" of Trump's actual remarks. National Review editor Rich Lowry claims the President actually referred to "sh*thouse countries."
Nonetheless, a number of world governments - including South Africa, Ghana, Haiti, Botswana and Senegal - have called in their US diplomats to formally protest the remarks. A number of Democratic and Republican politicians have also criticized the President's language in the media.
The Trump administration plans to allow states to tie Medicaid benefits to employment, based on a letter sent to state officials on Thursday. The letter, from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), lays out guidelines for mandating that able-bodied, working-age Medicaid enrollees maintain employment in order to receive benefits. Kentucky, which submitted its proposal to the federal government over a year ago, will likely be the first state to be approved. A number of states with majority Republican legislatures have indicated they will also try to institute similar programs, which will likely be challenged by Democrats and advocacy groups in court. According to Politico, the majority of those impacted will be working-age adults who first gained health coverage under Obamacare. A number of studies indicate that the majority of those receiving Medicaid benefits are already employed. – POLITICO
The House of Representatives rejected a proposal on Thursday that would have placed new limitations on the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless surveillance program, following contradictory tweets by the President. The new bipartisan legislation would have amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), requiring officials to obtain court warrants before reading the private emails of American citizens, among other changes. The bill would have extended the law for only four more years. Instead, the House approved a full six-year FISA extension, without the new privacy rules. In his first tweet about the FISA vote on Thursday morning, President Trump implied that the law may have been used "to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others." But in a follow-up message sent one hour later, Trump appeared to reverse course and support FISA renewal, instructing lawmakers "We need it! Get smart!" Following the tweets, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had suggested that Republicans pull the FISA renewal bill entirely. – NYT
President Trump plans to attend the World Economic Forum, to be held later this month in Davos, Switzerland. The annual economic summit, held in the Swiss Alps, has been called the "world's most high-powered networking event," and is attended by some of the world's wealthiest people. In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the President will "advance his America First agenda with world leaders" at the conference. Former President Bill Clinton attended the 2000 event, and President George W. Bush went to a World Economic Forum event in Egypt in 2008, but this will be a relatively rare Davos appearance by a sitting US president. Last year, Xi Jinping became the first Chinese president to make an appearance at the forum. – NYT
During a joint press conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, President Trump touted the sale of non-existent F-52 fighter jets. Speaking about a recent deal struck with Norway, Trump said "in November, we started delivering the first F-52s and F-35 fighter jets. We have a total of 52 and they’ve delivered a number of them already a little ahead of schedule." The mistake likely resulted from a misread of his notes. In fact, Norway has purchased 40 F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin, including the F-35 Lightning II, of which 10 have thus far been delivered. Though Lockheed Martin has no public plans for any "F-52" aircraft, the model does appear in the popular video game franchise "Call of Duty." – WAPO
Democratic lawmakers are planning protests for President Trump's first State of the Union address, scheduled for January 30. The Democratic Women’s Working Group, whose members wore all white when attending Trump's first joint address to Congress in 2017, will wear all black to the State of the Union address, in a nod to the "Me Too" movement against sexual harassment and abuse. The group's chairwoman, Florida Rep. Lois Frankel, also plans to bring an activist representative of "Me Too" as her guest to the address. (The inspiration came from this weekend's Golden Globe awards.) Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon has stated he'll skip the address entirely, and Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Al Green (D-Texas) - who declined to attend Trump's joint address to Congress - will announce in the coming days how they plan to handle the State of the Union. A number of other Democrats have indicated that they will try not to sit along the aisle, to avoid having to shake the President's hand as he walks by. – THEHILL
IN-DEPTH: FEINSTEIN RELEASES FUSION GPS TESTIMONY
On Tuesday, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein released a transcript of Senate testimony given by Glenn Simpson, the founder of research firm Fusion GPS. (Simpson spoke with the Senate Judiciary Committee back in August.) The nearly 300 page transcript gives insight into the creation of the infamous dossier by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, which was initially published in early 2017 by BuzzFeed and made numerous ties between Trump's campaign and prominent Russian figures. It also reveals the different approaches employed by the committee's Republican and Democratic senators.
On the GOP side, the effort was largely focused on discrediting the dossier, and indicating that Fusion - which had initially been hired by conservative donors, and later by the Clinton campaign - was purposefully digging up dirt on Trump and passing it along to government investigators.
Democrats on the committee, on the other hand, focused their questioning on the connections Steele and Fusion found between Russia and the Trump campaign. They also noted that Simpson, Fusion and Steele felt obligated to turn over what they had discovered to the FBI, rather than being compelled or assigned to do so, as they believed Trump was a potential target for blackmail.
Simpson's testimony indicates that the FBI already had some of the information contained in the dossier before meeting with Steele and Fusion in September of 2016, thanks to a "walk-in whistleblower" from within Trump's orbit. Simpson also claimed that Steele stopped collaborating with the FBI in late October of that year, believing that they were actively working in favor of the Trump campaign, and he made the widely-shared allegation that an unnamed person has "already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier."
President Trump criticized Sen. Feinstein and her decision to release the transcript in a series of tweets on Wednesday, nicknaming her "Sneaky Dianne Feinstein." He called her release of the document "possibly illegal" and "a disgrace." Feinstein told an NBC News producer that she regretted not telling Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican, about her plans in advance, blaming the failure to do so on "a bad cold."
When asked on Wednesday about whether or not he'd be personally interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, President Trump declined to give a concrete answer. The questioning came during Trump's appearance alongside Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway. The President said he would consult his attorneys about the possibility of doing the interview - first raised in the media earlier this week - adding "we'll see what happens." Trump once more referred to the special counsel's investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government as a "witch hunt" and a "Democrat hoax."
PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SPEECH TO FARMERS
On Monday, President Trump spoke to the American Farm Bureau Federation in Nashville, Tennessee, and promised to end what he termed a "regulatory assault" on the agricultural industry. During the 36-minute address, which received an enthusiastic response in the room, Trump also touted the recent Republican tax overhaul, which he vowed would mean more money "for our farmers and our middle class," and his rollback of former President Obama's "Waters of the United States" rule. (This placed additional regulatory hurdles on how farms could make use of federally protected small waterways.)
Though Trump has kept a number of campaign pledges to farmers - such as easing environmental regulations on the dairy, livestock and grain industries - his focus on tighter immigration controls could mean fewer available farmworkers, and his 2017 budget proposal outlines steep cuts in federal insurance subsidies to farms. The President did little to address these concerns during the speech, though he did recognize the importance of protecting farms against the risk of bad harvests. (He also touted, to applause, the elimination of the estate tax, which he deemed a "death tax.") Trump did not discuss the Agricultural Act of 2014, known as the "Farm Bill," which allocates federal dollars for food and agricultural programs. It's set to expire in 2018.
As well, many in the industry remain concerned about Trump's opposition to international trade pacts. Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have meant an additional $4.4 billion per year for the agricultural industry. Addressing concerns that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) may be similarly threatened, the President promised his audience that negotiations are ongoing and his team is “working very hard to get a better deal.”
Trump also used the occasion to tout his plan to expand rural access to high-speed internet, vowing "those towers are going to go up and you’re going to have great, great broadband." (Though the order clears regulatory hurdles and asks the executive branch to “use all viable tools” to encourage the expansion of rural broadband service, it does not appear to allocate any funds to make this happen more quickly.) In one widely-shared exchange, the President joked with the crowd “Oh, are you happy you voted for me. You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege."