RAND PAUL: ‘My Oath is to the American people. Not Ukraine.’

MAGA: Republicans embrace Trump in effort to reclaim Senate

WASHINGTON (The Hill) — The top Republican candidates hoping to win back control of the Senate have embraced former President Trump as a kind of running mate in the first weeks of their campaigns, a recognition that the ousted president is still the party’s best fundraiser and most recognizable figure even from exile in Florida.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who has Trump’s endorsement in the race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R), mentioned the former president seven times in a press release announcing his candidacy. His leading rival, former Ambassador Lynda Blanchard (R), recently held a fundraiser at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

In Missouri, former Gov. Eric Greitens (R) promised to defend Trump’s “America first policies” less than a minute into an interview on Fox News in which he announced he would run to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R). Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) mentioned Trump twice in his own announcement video.

“We need to promote President Trump’s America first policies. That’s what’s going to help to bring that kind of broad-based prosperity back,” Greitens told Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo last month.

“President Trump built the strongest economy our country has ever seen, and I am going to fight to bring it back,” Schmitt said in his announcement video.

In Ohio, a state Trump carried by 8 points, the former president is the star of the show. Former Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) mentioned Trump a dozen times in a press release announcing his campaign to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R). Businessman Bernie Moreno (R) cited Trump four times in his own announcement, and businessman Mike Gibbons (R) praised Trump twice. 

“Josh Mandel was proud to be the first statewide elected official in Ohio to support President Trump in 2016 when others were supporting John Kasich. After seeing the second sham impeachment take place this February, Josh was motivated to run for the U.S. Senate to continue to fight for President Trump’s America First agenda,” said Scott Guthrie, Mandel’s campaign manager. “Ohioans overwhelmingly elected President Trump because his policies created unprecedented economic success, kept our borders secure and America safe. When Josh gets to the U.S. Senate, he will fight tooth and nail to keep advancing President Trump’s agenda.”

Former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken (R) reversed herself last month and called on Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R), one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January, to resign.

“President Trump is the most popular Republican in America and his agenda worked for Ohioans,” Timken said in a statement. “I’ve championed those America First policies over for the past four years as his hand-picked Party Chair, and it’s what I will stand up for in the U.S. Senate because it’s what is best for Ohio.”

Trump is so ever-present in Republican campaigns that his absence is notable in itself.

Pennsylvania real estate developer Jeff Bartos (R), who has not aligned himself closely with Trump, has mentioned the former president only once on Twitter, praising his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, and only once on his website, citing Trump as the candidate who fought for overlooked voters.

The only time former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) mentions Trump’s name on his website is in support of a border wall Trump pledged to build while in office.

Republican strategists working for some of the leading candidates say their clients have two goals in leaning so heavily on an ousted incumbent. First, Trump remains the singular focus of the Republican primary electorate that will decide which contenders make it through crowded primary elections.

“The fever will break eventually, but right now we are in a time when the key qualification to win a primary is whether the candidate supported President Trump,” said one Republican strategist involved in several key races, who asked for anonymity to be candid about his client’s strategy.

Second, Trump remains the best fundraiser within the Republican Party. Several strategists said the average email solicitation with Trump’s signature raises much more than an email without his name.

“Low-dollar fundraising is driven by the organic DNA of the recipient’s original donation. Donors are much more likely to give to an appeal that mirrors the original appeal that they answered. The thing that made them get off their couch and off the sidelines and into the game as a donor is what’s most likely to motivate them subsequently,” said another party strategist involved in other key campaigns.

The original motivator for Republican low-dollar donors remains Trump himself, the Republican candidate who raised more money through small-dollar solicitations than any other candidate in party history.

Trump has sought to maintain his leverage over the GOP, dropping in on fundraisers for candidates who spend money to hobnob with donors at his Florida resort and endorsing those he deems as sufficiently supportive. Trump has so far endorsed eight U.S. Senators facing reelection next year, along with Brooks in Alabama and two candidates running for Congress.

The fealty to Trump, observers say, is a sign of his hold on core Republican voters — even if some of his support may be slipping. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday found 44 percent of GOP voters said they considered themselves more a supporter of Trump than of the Republican Party, a tremendous amount of loyalty to one man but one that has slipped significantly, by 10 points, since just before the 2020 election.

“That’s what counts, especially when party base voters are likely base voters,” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College in North Carolina. “Will a full-throated support for the former president be the determining factor over the next year’s primary battle? Yet to be seen.”

POTUS GETS TRUMPED: Senate rejects Trump border emergency as Republicans defect

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-run Senate firmly rejected President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southwest border on Thursday, setting up a veto fight and dealing him a conspicuous rebuke as he tested how boldly he could ignore Congress in pursuit of his highest-profile goal.

The Senate voted 59-41 to cancel Trump’s February proclamation of a border emergency, which he invoked to spend $3.6 billion more for border barriers than Congress had approved. Twelve Republicans joined Democrats in defying Trump in a showdown many GOP senators had hoped to avoid because he commands die-hard loyalty from millions of conservative voters who could punish defecting lawmakers in next year’s elections.

With the Democratic-controlled House’s approval of the same resolution last month, Senate passage sends it to Trump. He has shown no reluctance to casting his first veto to advance his campaign exhortation, “Build the Wall,” which has prompted roars at countless Trump rallies. Approval votes in both the Senate and House fell short of the two-thirds majorities that would be needed for an override to succeed.

“VETO!” Trump tweeted minutes after the vote.

Trump has long been comfortable vetoing the measure because he thinks it will endear him to his political base, said a White House official, commenting anonymously because the official wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Though Trump seems sure to prevail in that battle, it remains noteworthy that lawmakers of both parties resisted him in a fight directly tied to his cherished campaign theme of erecting a border wall. The roll call came just a day after the Senate took a step toward a veto fight with Trump on another issue, voting to end U.S. support for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition’s war in Yemen.

In a measure of how remarkable the confrontation was, Thursday was the first time Congress has voted to block a presidential emergency since the National Emergency Act became law in 1976.

Even before Thursday’s vote, there were warnings that GOP senators resisting Trump could face political consequences. A White House official said Trump won’t forget when senators who oppose him want him to attend fundraisers or provide other help. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on internal deliberations.

At the White House, Trump did not answer when reporters asked if there would be consequences for Republicans who voted against him.

“I’m sure he will not be happy with my vote,” said moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a GOP defector who faces re-election next year in a state that reveres independent streaks in its politicians. “But I’m a United State senator and feel my job to stand up for the Constitution. So let the chips fall where they may.”

Underscoring the political pressures in play, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., one of the first Republicans to say he’d oppose Trump’s border emergency, voted Thursday to support it.

Tillis, who faces a potentially difficult re-election race next year, cited talks with the White House that suggest Trump could be open to restricting presidential emergency powers in the future. Tillis wrote in a Washington Post opinion column last month that there’d be “no intellectual honesty” in backing Trump after his repeated objections about executive overreach by President Barack Obama.

Still, the breadth of opposition among Republicans suggested how concern about his declaration had spread to all corners of the GOP. Republican senators voting for the resolution blocking Trump included Mitt Romney of Utah, the party’s 2012 presidential candidate; Mike Lee of Utah, a solid conservative; Trump 2016 presidential rivals Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a respected centrist.

Republicans control the Senate 53-47. Democrats solidly opposed Trump’s declaration.

Presidents have declared 58 national emergencies since the 1976 law, but this was the first aimed at accessing money that Congress had explicitly denied, according to Elizabeth Goitein, co-director for national security at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice.

Trump and Republicans backing him said there is a legitimate security and humanitarian crisis at the border with Mexico. They also said Trump was merely exercising his powers under the law, which largely leaves it to presidents to decide what a national emergency is.

“The president is operating within existing law, and the crisis on our border is all too real,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Opponents said Trump’s assertion of an emergency was overblown. They said he issued his declaration only because Congress agreed to provide less than $1.4 billion for barriers and he was desperate to fulfill his campaign promise on the wall. They said the Constitution gives Congress, not presidents, control over spending and said Trump’s stretching of emergency powers would invite future presidents to do the same for their own concerns.

“He’s obsessed with showing strength, and he couldn’t just abandon his pursuit of the border wall, so he had to trample on the Constitution to continue his fight,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Republicans had hoped that Trump would endorse a separate bill by Utah’s Sen. Lee constraining emergency declarations in the future and that would win over enough GOP senators to reject Thursday’s resolution.

But Trump told Lee on Wednesday that he opposed Lee’s legislation, prompting Lee himself to say he would back the resolution.

The strongest chance of blocking Trump remains several lawsuits filed by Democratic state attorneys general, environmental groups and others. Those cases could effectively block Trump from diverting extra money to barrier construction for months or longer.

On Twitter, Trump called on Republicans to oppose the resolution, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., helped drive through the House last month.

“Today’s issue is BORDER SECURITY and Crime!!! Don’t vote with Pelosi!” he tweeted, invoking the name of a Democrat who boatloads of GOP ads have villainized in recent campaign cycles.

Other Republicans voting against Trump’s border emergency were Roy Blunt of Missouri, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

The National Emergency Act gives presidents wide leeway in declaring an emergency. Congress can vote to block a declaration, but the two-thirds majorities required to overcome presidential vetoes make it hard for lawmakers to prevail.

Lee had proposed letting a presidential emergency declaration last 30 days unless Congress voted to extend it. That would have applied to future emergencies but not Trump’s current order unless he sought to renew it next year.

___

Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Padmananda Rama and Andrew Taylor contributed to the contents of this report.

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TRUMP UNDER ATTACK: Dems launch sweeping probe into president’s businesses, campaign, family

WASHINGTON — Democrat House leaders on Monday launched a full-scale attack on Donald Trump, his business and family members in the hopes of scoring some dirt on the much-embattled president.

Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Monday that document requests were sent to 81 people connected to the president, business associates and his presidential campaign.

According to Nadler, the investigation will center around allegations of obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power.

The document requests, with responses to most due by March 18, are a way to “begin building the public record” and to carry out the responsibilities the committee has to investigate and hold public hearings, Nadler said.

“Over the last several years, President Trump has evaded accountability for his near-daily attacks on our basic legal, ethical, and constitutional rules and norms,” Nadler said while announcing the probe. “Investigating these threats to the rule of law is an obligation of Congress and a core function of the House Judiciary Committee.”

Among those to receive letters from the committee are Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and the former top White House aides Hope Hicks, Sean Spicer, and Steve Bannon—all of whom have already testified before Congress relating to the various probes into Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.

In an interview with The Washington Times on Saturday, Nadler admitted that his committee was still a “long way” from launching impeachment proceedings. “We do not now have the evidence all sorted out to do an impeachment,” Nadler told ABC’s This Week. “Before you impeach somebody, you have to persuade the American people that it ought to happen.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy scoffed at the Nadler’s latest probe, saying Democrats are simply desperate to find anything they think they can possibly use against the president.

“There’s no collusion,” McCarthy said, “so they want to build something else.”

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SUCKS TO BE DEM: Democrats struggle to regroup after GOP embarrasses them on procedure

WASHINGTON (The Hill) — House Democratic leaders are scrambling for a way to unite their splintered caucus following a series of embarrassing votes that have empowered the minority Republicans and escalated tensions among the top party brass.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday urged her troops to oppose the Republicans’ procedural motions as a blanket policy, regardless of their substance, but faced resistance from some moderates who want the leeway to vote with local concerns in mind.

“Vote ‘no.’ Just vote ‘no,’ because the fact is a vote ‘yes’ is to give leverage to the other side, to surrender the leverage on the floor of the House,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol, relaying the message she gave to Democrats at a closed-door meeting.

Pelosi’s plea follows an embarrassing hiccup on Wednesday during a vote on a key gun reform bill to require universal background checks.

More than two dozen Democrats, mostly freshmen from swing districts, crossed the aisle to help Republicans pass a motion to recommit (MTR) — a parliamentary proposal released at the last minute — to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement if a person in the country illegally tries to buy a gun.

The surprise GOP victory forced Democrats to endorse an immigration policy most oppose to ensure passage of their long-sought background check bill.

At a closed-door Thursday meeting of the Democratic whip team in the Capitol basement, Pelosi and a number of rank-and-file members — including prominent freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — implored their colleagues to reject the GOP procedural gambits, regardless of how tough it might seem to vote against them.

But a number of moderate Democrats are vowing to vote however they see fit.

“I vote my district,” Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who voted in favor of the GOP’s measure, told The Hill on Thursday.

Freshman Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (D-N.J.) also held firm.

“I always feel responsible for what I vote for,” said Van Drew, who voted against his party on the GOP measure. “And if I believe something makes sense I’ll vote for it; if I think it doesn’t make sense, I won’t vote for it — if it’s an MTR or anything else.”

Democrats say they get where lawmakers like Van Drew are coming from. But they also say their votes are putting the rest of the party in a bad position.

“We certainly understand the situation that the new members feel, and we’re just trying to remind them this is a procedural tool of the minority,” Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), vice chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus, said leaving the Thursday meeting. “They have to remember that … the very essence of it is to put them in awkward positions.”

The loss on Wednesday was particularly painful because it was a surprise and because it came on gun control legislation that’s a cornerstone of the Democratic legislative agenda.

Ocasio-Cortez told her colleagues that she had to explain what unfolded on the floor to the activists seated in the visitors’ gallery, according to a lawmaker in the room.

“These MTRs, they’re designed to be essentially the House version of Trump’s agenda when it comes to dividing people,” Ocasio-Cortez said after the meeting. “They force a zero-sum situation where, in order to get my thing, I have to hurt another person.

“I think it’s something that we need to anticipate, and I think it is something we need to be united against.”

For the Democrats, the split starts at the very top. Pelosi has built a long-earned reputation for uniting her caucus against such procedural maneuvers, which she deems “gotcha” votes. But her top lieutenants — House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) — want to give freshmen and other vulnerable lawmakers the freedom to break with the party on tough votes.

“I think we suffer from potentially a lack of consistency in terms of the message that members are getting,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a chief deputy whip. “I think that’s a problem.”

Democrats discussed potentially changing House rules to require more advance notice of the legislative text for motions to recommit. But top leaders made no decision on Thursday and, for now, are simply encouraging the rank-and-file to fall in line.

Leadership has also taken some steps to help manage the moderates inclined to vote for the motions. Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and Scott Peters (D-Calif.) have been tasked in recent weeks with helping their respective Blue Dog and New Democrat coalition members understand the procedure and content of the motions while reporting back to the whip team, according to a senior Democratic aide.

Clyburn said the caucus is still having discussions and is not yet seriously entertaining a rules change.

“Not yet, not yet,” he said.

Pelosi suggested that the newly created Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress could consider changes to motions to recommit.

“I think that’s an appropriate place for some of that discussion to take place. In the meantime, vote ‘no,’ ” Pelosi said.

Republicans have twice won passage of motions to recommit this year. The obscure measures allow the minority party one last opportunity to change legislation before its final passage. The minority party can spring it on the majority at the last minute with little to no advance notice of a specific amendment.

“There’s a good deal of frustration over this in the caucus,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

Republicans cried foul over the possibility of a rules change to one of the few tools they have at their disposal in the minority.

Speaking to reporters, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Thursday accused Democrats of trying to restrict minority party rights — dating back to 1909 — once they took back the majority.

“Less than 60 days into the new majority, they want to silence the minority. That’s wrong,” McCarthy said.

Some Democrats in the whip meeting argued that Republicans will attack vulnerable members anyway, no matter how many times they vote for the procedural motions to avoid unflattering campaign ads, according to lawmakers in the room.

“People are going to run ads whether they cast tough votes or not,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). “The point was made in there that you’ve got to understand the cost of that to the caucus itself, and how that weakens the caucus.”

But others are sympathetic to colleagues in competitive districts who worry about tough votes.

“My personal opinion is that procedure votes, parties usually stick with each other on procedure votes. But I do have an understanding of members from vulnerable districts and they have to vote their district,” said centrist Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

Democrats used motions to recommit to try to change bills when they were in the minority, but their efforts were unsuccessful since Republicans viewed those votes as merely procedural.

But Republicans have repeatedly turned them into efforts to force tough votes for vulnerable Democrats. Earlier this month, they successfully added an amendment condemning anti-Semitism to a resolution to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

Republicans pushed the anti-Semitism measure in the aftermath of freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) facing bipartisan backlash for suggesting that U.S. lawmakers defending Israel are motivated by money.

But the GOP’s success with the motion to recommit on the Yemen resolution ended up leading to more problems. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that the resolution was no longer “privileged” because of the anti-Semitism language was deemed non-germane, meaning that supporters cannot force a vote in the upper chamber. They will instead have to reintroduce a new resolution and attempt a do-over.

Democrats faced another GOP motion on Thursday to their second gun reform bill of the week, which would lengthen the review period for background checks. Current law allows a firearm sale to proceed if a background check hasn’t been completed within three days.

The legislation is meant as a response to the 2015 shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., in which the gunman, Dylann Roof, would have failed a background check had an examiner received notice that he had been previously arrested for drug possession.

Republicans offered a motion to recommit that would still allow gun transfers to victims of domestic violence after three days. But Democrats easily defeated it after an emotional speech from Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who described the domestic violence between her parents.

“All of us were scared to death about her gun and my father’s gun! We had two guns to worry about!” Dingell said.

Only two of the 26 Democrats who voted for Wednesday’s motion did so again on Thursday: Van Drew and Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.).

—–

The Hill’s Scott Wong contributed to the contents of this report.

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REPORT: House near OK of Dems’ bill blocking Trump emergency on wall

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats ignored a veto threat and prepared to ram legislation through the House Tuesday that would stymie President Donald Trump’s bid for billions of extra dollars for his border wall, escalating a clash over whether Trump was abusing his powers to advance his paramount campaign pledge.

The House’s certain vote to block Trump’s national emergency declaration would throw the political hot potato to the Republican-run Senate, where there were already enough GOP defections to edge it to the cusp of passage. Vice President Mike Pence used a private lunch with Republican senators at the Capitol to try keeping them aboard, citing a dangerous crisis at the border, but there were no signs that he’d succeeded.

“I personally couldn’t handicap the outcome at this point,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who’s planning a vote within the next three weeks.

Senate passage would force Trump’s first veto, which Congress would surely lack the votes to override. But the showdown was forcing Republicans to cast uncomfortable votes pitting their support for a president wildly popular with GOP voters against fears that his expansive use of emergency powers would invite future Democratic presidents to do likewise for their own pet policies.

Underscoring the issue’s political sensitivity, House Republican leaders worked to keep the number of GOP supporters below 53. That’s the number that would be needed to reach a two-thirds majority of 288 votes, assuming all Democrats vote “yes,” the margin required for a veto override.

“If they vote their conscience and the Constitution, we will” get Republican votes, said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “If they vote party and politics, we won’t.”

The White House wrote to lawmakers formally threatening to veto the legislation. The letter said blocking the emergency declaration would “undermine the administration’s ability to respond effectively to the ongoing crisis at the Southern Border.”

Republicans said it was Democrats who were driven by politics and a desire to oppose Trump at every turn, and said Trump had the authority to declare an emergency to protect the country. They also defended the president’s claims of a security crisis along the boundary with Mexico, which he has said is ravaged by drug smugglers, human traffickers and immigrants trying to sneak into the U.S. illegally.

“We are at war on the Southern border with the drug cartels,” said Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas.

Trump has asserted that barriers would stop drugs from Mexico from entering the U.S. In fact, government figures show that 90 percent of drugs intercepted from Mexico are caught at ports of entry, not remote areas where barriers would be constructed.

Democrats said Trump’s push for the wall reflected a continuation of the anti-immigrant views that helped fuel his election.

“Since when do we call human beings in need a national emergency?” said Mexican-born Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill. “Is he running out of insults for people like me?”

Democrats also said the crisis is a fiction manufactured by Trump to dance around Congress’ vote this month to provide less than $1.4 billion for barrier construction. That was well below the $5.7 billion Trump demanded as he futilely forced a record-setting 35-day federal shutdown.

“The president does not get to override Congress is a raucous temper tantrum over his inability to broker a deal” for more money with Congress, said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, sponsor of the one-sentence measure blocking the declaration, called Trump’s move “constitutional vandalism.”

Trump used a 1976 law to declare a national emergency and ordered the shift of $3.6 billion from military construction projects to wall building. Citing other powers, he intends to shift another $3.1 billion from Defense Department anti-drug efforts and a fund that collects seized assets.

In the Senate, three Republicans have already said they will back Democrats’ drive to block the emergency declaration: Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis. Just one more GOP defection would provide enough votes to approve the Democratic measure, assuming all Democrats and their independent allies back it.

Republicans said senators asked Pence numerous questions about which projects Trump would be divert to pay for the wall, with Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., saying the discussion was “hearty.” Shelby, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, which controls spending, said his panel would quickly “backfill” money for military construction with other funds he did not identify.

“That issue won’t stay alive long,” Shelby told reporters.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the chief GOP vote counter, said there may be GOP attempts to amend the House measure, saying some Republicans “think they have amendments that would improve it.”

That suggests that McConnell may try finding a way to add language that could sink the Democratic resolution or, perhaps, make it more palatable for Republicans. The law requires the Senate to vote on a measure within 18 days of receiving it from the House.

Though presidents have declared 58 emergencies under the law, this is the first aimed at acquiring money for an item Congress has explicitly refused to finance, according to Elizabeth Goitein, co-director for national security at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. This is also the first time Congress has cast votes on whether to annul an emergency declaration, she said.

Even with Democrats’ effort near-certain to fail, several lawsuits have been filed aimed at blocking the money, including by Democratic state attorneys general, progressive and environmental groups. Those suits at the very least are likely to delay access to those funds for months or years.

___

AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and reporter Colleen Long contributed to the contents of this report.

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REPORT: Dems to file measure blocking Trump’s national emergency on Friday

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats will file a resolution Friday aimed at blocking the national emergency declaration that President Donald Trump has issued to help finance his wall along the Southwest border, teeing up a clash over billions of dollars, immigration policy and the Constitution’s separation of powers.

That could set up a vote by the full House by mid-March, if not sooner. The battle is over a declaration that Trump, whose border wall was the most visible trademark of his presidential campaign, is using to try spending billions of dollars beyond what Congress has authorized to start building border barriers.

Passage by the Democratic-run House seems likely. The measure would then move to the Republican-controlled Senate, where there may be enough GOP defections for approval.

Trump has promised to veto the measure. It seems unlikely Congress could muster the two-thirds majorities in each chamber needed to override a veto.

Aides to Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, were circulating a letter Wednesday to other congressional offices seeking additional co-sponsors to his one-page resolution. “We are planning to introduce it on Friday morning,” said the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

Castro’s measure, which described Trump’s emergency declaration, says it “is hereby terminated.” Castro chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Congress approved a vast spending bill last week providing nearly $1.4 billion to build 55 miles of border barriers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley while preventing a renewed government shutdown. That measure represented a rejection of Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to construct more than 200 miles.

Besides signing the bill, Trump also declared a national emergency that he says gives him access to an additional $6.6 billion that would be taken from a federal asset forfeiture fund, Defense Department anti-drug efforts and military construction projects.

Democrats and some Republicans say there is no emergency at the border and say Trump is improperly declaring one to work around Congress’ rejection of the higher amounts.

The plan for introducing the resolution was initially described by officials at three progressive groups who heard of them from congressional aides but were not authorized to discuss the plans privately.

—–

Alan Fram of the Associated Press contributed to the contents of this report.

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Trump: ‘Shutdown would be a terrible thing’

WASHINGTON (The Hill) — President Trump on Wednesday said he does not want to see another government shutdown, the latest indication he may sign a spending agreement that includes just a fraction of the funds he demanded for a border wall.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump blasted Democrats as “stingy” for not meeting his target for wall funding but said “we have options that most people don’t really understand” to circumvent Congress and build the barrier.

“I don’t want to see a shutdown. Shutdown would be a terrible thing,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office during a meeting with Colombian President Iván Duque.

“I don’t want to see another one,” he added. “There’s no reason for it.”

Trump and his advisers have dropped hints he may sign the bipartisan spending agreement ever since Capitol Hill negotiators announced it on Monday evening, a decision that would please leaders in both political parties.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), the No. 4 House Democrat, earlier Wednesday predicted “the overwhelming majority” of his fellow party members would vote for the legislation following a caucus meeting where leaders sought to rally support for the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also expressed hope Trump will sign the legislation, saying Tuesday, “I think he’s got a pretty good deal here.”

Lawmakers have yet to resolve disputes over related issues, such as an extension of the Violence Against Women Act and back pay for federal contractors, and the text remains incomplete with less than three days before the Feb. 15 funding deadline.

While the White House has indicated Trump will sign the measure, the president has stopped short of affirming he will do so. Trump on Wednesday said “we’ll be looking for landmines” when the legislative text arrives.

“We’ll take a very serious look at it,” he said.

The bipartisan agreement would provide $1.375 billion to build 55 miles of new barriers along the southern border, well short of Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion and less than what was included in a spending deal he rejected in December, which triggered a 35-day partial government shutdown that resulted in a massive hit to his approval ratings.

In exchange, Democrats dropped their demand for a hard cap on the number of immigrants that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is allowed to detain at a given time. Lawmakers instead included funding for an average of 45,000 detention beds over the fiscal year.

Trump on Wednesday sought to allay concerns from some conservatives who say the package does not fulfill his campaign promise to build a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico.

The president said the measure actually includes almost $23 billion for the border, even though that figure includes money for all security measures, including technology and personnel, in addition to the wall.

Trump also repeated his claim that his wall is already being built, despite the fact that the vast majority of construction happening now at the U.S.-Mexico border is to repair or replace existing barriers.
“I appreciate all the work the Republicans have done because they’re really going against a radical left. It’s a radical left. And they’re going against it very hard,” he said.

Conservative media figures, whose criticism of the December deal helped prompt Trump to shut down parts of the government, have offered a mixed reaction to the latest agreement.

Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter attacked the deal on Twitter, writing, “we thought Trump was going to be different” in response to House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows’ (R-N.C.) criticism of the compromise.

Others have given Trump some cover.

Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday night called the measure “pathetic,” but added that he is “not as concerned as some other conservatives if the president signs the bill.”

Trump again on Wednesday floated the prospect of taking executive action to build the wall.

One proposal being floated by White House advisers is reprogramming certain federal funds, such as unused military-construction or disaster-relief dollars. That option would allow Trump to begin construction without taking the controversial step of declaring a national emergency while also skirting congressional approval.

“We have other things happening which people aren’t talking about. We’ve got a lot of funds for a lot of other things,” the president said Wednesday.

Trump, however, has not taken a national emergency declaration off the table.

Either move would almost certainly trigger a legal challenge that could stymie wall construction.

The House is expected to take up the funding bill on Thursday evening. If it passes, it would head to the Senate for another vote before it reaches the president’s desk. Roughly one-quarter of the government would shutter after midnight Friday if Trump does not sign the spending package.

The Hill’s Jordan Fabian contributed to the contents of this report.trumpredtiebluecoat

NO WIN: Senate rejects rival Dem, GOP plans for reopening government

WASHINGTON (AP) — A splintered Senate swatted down competing Democratic and Republican plans for ending the 34-day partial government shutdown on Thursday, leaving President Donald Trump and Congress with no obvious formula for halting the longest-ever closure of federal agencies and the damage it is inflicting around the country.

In an embarrassment to Trump that could weaken his position whenever negotiations get serious, the Democratic proposal got two more votes than the GOP plan. There were six Republican defectors, including freshman Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who’s clashed periodically with the president.

There were faint signs that lawmakers on both sides were looking for ways to resolve their vitriolic stalemate. Moments after the votes, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., went to the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

But Thursday was mostly a day for both parties, in conflicting ways, to show sympathy for unpaid federal workers while yielding no ground in their fight over Trump’s demand to build a border wall with Mexico.

The Senate first rejected a Republican plan reopening government through September and giving Trump the $5.7 billion he’s demanded for building segments of that wall, a project that he’d long promised Mexico would finance. The 50-47 vote for the measure fell 10 shy of the 60 votes needed to succeed.

Minutes later, senators voted 52-44 for a Democratic alternative that sought to open padlocked agencies through Feb. 8 with no wall money. That was eight votes short. It was aimed at giving bargainers time to seek an accord while getting paychecks to 800,000 beleaguered government workers who are a day from going unpaid for a second consecutive pay period.

Flustered lawmakers said the results could be a reality check that would prod the start of talks. Throughout, the two sides have issued mutually exclusive demands that have blocked negotiations from even starting: Trump has refused to reopen government until Congress gives him the wall money, and congressional Democrats have rejected bargaining until he reopens government.

Thursday’s votes could “teach us that the leaders are going to have to get together and figure out how to resolve this,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate GOP leader. He added, “One way or another we’ve got to get out of this. This is no win for anybody.”

For now, partisan potshots flowed freely.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., accused Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of a “let them eat cake kind of attitude” after he said on television that he didn’t understand why unpaid civil servants were resorting to homeless shelters for food. Even as Pelosi offered to meet the president “anytime,” Trump stood firm, tweeting, “Without a Wall it all doesn’t work…. We will not Cave!” and no meetings were scheduled.

As the Senate debated the two dueling proposals, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Democratic plan would let that party’s lawmakers “make political points and nothing else” because Trump wouldn’t sign it. He called Pelosi’s stance “unreasonable” and said, “Senate Democrats are not obligated to go down with her ship.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized the GOP plan for endorsing Trump’s proposal to keep the government closed until he got what he wants.

“A vote for the president’s plan is an endorsement of government by extortion,” Schumer said. “If we let him do it today, he’ll do it tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.′

Still smarting from its clash with Pelosi over the State of the Union, the White House closely monitored the Senate votes and Trump spoke with lawmakers throughout the day. He was waiting to see if many Democrats crossed over to back his plan, but West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin proved to be the only one.

Even so, there were suggestions of movement.

Vice President Mike Pence attended a lunch with GOP senators before the vote and heard from lawmakers eager for the standoff to end, participants said. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said their message to Pence was “Find a way forward.”

In consultation with their Senate counterparts, House Democrats were preparing a new border security package they planned to roll out Friday. Despite their pledge to not negotiate until agencies reopened, their forthcoming proposal was widely seen as a counteroffer to Trump. Pelosi expressed “some optimism that things could break loose pretty soon” in a closed-door meeting with other Democrats Wednesday evening, said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky.

The Democratic package was expected to include $5.7 billion, the same amount Trump wants for his wall, but use it instead for fencing, technology, personnel and other measures. In a plan the rejected Senate GOP plan mirrored, Trump on Saturday proposed to reopen government if he got his wall money. He also proposed to revamp immigration laws, including new restrictions on Central American minors seeking asylum in the U.S. and temporary protections for immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

In another sign of hope, Thursday’s vote on the Democratic plan represented movement by McConnell. For weeks, he’d refused to allow a Senate vote on anything Trump wouldn’t sign and has let Trump and Democrats try reaching an accord. McConnell has a history of helping resolve past partisan standoffs, and his agreement to allow Thursday’s vote was seen by some as a sign he would become more forcefully engaged.

With the impacts of the shutdown becoming increasingly painful, however, lawmakers on both sides were trumpeting their willingness to compromise in the battle over border security and immigration issues, such as protection against deportation for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

“We can work this out,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

At a panel discussion held by House Democrats on the effects of the shutdown, union leaders and former Homeland Security officials said they worried about the long-term effects. “I fear we are rolling the dice,” said Tim Manning, a former Federal Emergency Management Agency official. “We will be lucky to get everybody back on the job without a crisis to respond to.”

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Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram contributed to the contents of this report.

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TRUMP: Shutdown could last for ‘months or even years’

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump declared Friday he could keep parts of the government shut down for “months or even years” as he and Democratic leaders failed in a second closed-door meeting to resolve his demand for billions of dollars for a border wall with Mexico. They did agree to a new round of weekend talks between staff members and White House officials.

Trump met in the White House Situation Room with congressional leaders from both parties as the shutdown hit the two-week mark amid an impasse over his wall demands. Democrats emerged from the roughly two-hour meeting, which both sides said was contentious at times, to report little if any progress.

The standoff also prompted economic jitters and anxiety among some in Trump’s own party. But he appeared in the Rose Garden to frame the upcoming weekend talks as progress, while making clear he would not reopen the government.

“We won’t be opening until it’s solved,” Trump said. “I don’t call it a shutdown. I call it doing what you have to do for the benefit and the safety of our country.”

Trump said he could declare a national emergency to build the wall without congressional approval, but would first try a “negotiated process.” Trump previously described the situation at the border as a “national emergency” before he dispatched active-duty troops in what critics described as a pre-election stunt.

Trump also said the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are furloughed or working without pay would want him to “keep going” and fight for border security. Asked how people would manage without a financial safety net, he declared: “The safety net is going to be having a strong border because we’re going to be safe.”

Democrats, on the other hand, spoke of families unable to pay bills and called on Trump to reopen the government while negotiations continue. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “It’s very hard to see how progress will be made unless they open up the government.”

Friday’s White House meeting with Trump included eight congressional leaders — the top two Democrats and Republicans of both chambers. People familiar with the session but not authorized to speak publicly described Trump as holding forth at length on a range of subjects but said he made clear he was firm in his demand for $5.6 billion in wall funding and in rejecting the Democrats’ request to reopen the government.

Trump confirmed that he privately told Democrats the shutdown could drag on for months or years, though he said he hoped it wouldn’t last that long. Said Trump: “I hope it doesn’t go on even beyond a few more days.”

House Democrats muscled through legislation Thursday night to fund the government but not Trump’s proposed wall. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said those measures are non-starters on his side of the Capitol without the president’s support.

A variety of strategies are being floated inside and outside the White House, among them trading wall funding for a deal on immigrants brought to the country as young people and now here illegally, or using a national emergency declaration to build the wall. While Trump made clear during his press conference that talk on DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) would have to wait and that he was trying to negotiate with Congress on the wall, the conversations underscored rising Republican anxiety about just how to exit the shutdown.

Seeking to ease concerns, the White House sought to frame the weekend talks as a step forward, as did McConnell, who described plans for a “working group,” though people familiar with the meeting said that phrase never actually came up. Trump designated Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and adviser Jared Kushner to work with a congressional delegation over the weekend. That meeting is set for 11 a.m. Saturday, the White House said.

Some GOP senators up for re-election in 2020 voiced discomfort with the shutdown in recent days, including Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine, putting additional pressure on Republicans.

But with staff level talks there is always an open question of whether Trump’s aides are fully empowered to negotiate for the president. Earlier this week, he rejected his own administration’s offer to accept $2.5 billion for the wall. That proposal was made when Pence and other top officials met at the start of the shutdown with Schumer.

During his free-wheeling session with reporters, Trump also wrongly claimed that he’d never called for the wall to be concrete. Trump did so repeatedly during his campaign, describing a wall of pre-cast concrete sections that would be higher than the walls of many of his rally venues. He repeated that promise just days ago.

“An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media. Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides). Makes sense to me!,” he tweeted on Dec. 31.

Trump was joined by Pence in the Rose Garden, as well as House Republican leaders Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise. McConnell, who went back to the Capitol, unaware of the press conference, said it was encouraging that the White House officials and the congressional contingent would meet over the weekend “to see if they can reach an agreement and then punt it back to us for final sign off.”

Schumer said that if McConnell and Senate Republicans stay on the sidelines, “Trump can keep the government shut down for a long time.”

“The president needs an intervention,” Schumer said. “And Senate Republicans are just the right ones to intervene.”Graphic shows federal funding gaps of at least two days since 1976.
Adding to national unease about the shutdown are economic jitters as analysts warn of the risks of closures that are disrupting government operations across multiple departments and agencies at a time of other uncertainties in the stock market and foreign trade.

In their first votes of the new Congress, House Democrats approved bills Thursday night to re-open government at previously agreed upon levels. Several Republicans crossed over to join them.

White House and Department of Homeland Security officials have spent recent days trying to make both a public and private case that the situation at the border has reached a crisis point. Polls show a majority of Americans oppose the border wall, although Republicans strongly support it.

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Mary Clare Jalonick, Laurie Kellman, Kevin Freking, Matthew Daly, Deb Riechmann and Eileen Putman contributed to the contents of this report.

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