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Pelosi Cancel’s Trump’s State of the Union Invitation During Shutdown

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WASHINGTON, January 16, 2019 — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has advised President Donald Trump that he shouldn’t plan to deliver his second State of the Union address until the longest partial government shutdown in American history has come to an end.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after the government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th,” said Pelosi, D-Calif., in a Wednesday letter addressed to the president.

The Speaker cited the “extraordinary demands” the president’s annual address would place on the United States Secret Service, thanks to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s decision to designate the president’s annual State of the Union address as a National Security Special Event.

Nielsen’s decision places the Secret Service in charge of coordinating the interlocking arrangements required to secure an event which will place the President, Vice President, and most of the presidential line of succession in the same room as Congress, the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a Diplomatic Corps representing dozens of foreign nations.

The White House has so far declined to comment on Pelosi’s letter, but Nielsen addressed the matter in a tweet Wednesday afternoon.

“The Department of Homeland Security and the US Secret Service are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union. We thank the Service for their mission focus and dedication and for all they do each day to secure our homeland,” Nielsen tweeted.

Pelosi’s suggestion of a written submission is a nod to both the history and constitutional underpinnings of the president’s annual message to Congress. More than an annual political manifesto, an annual message is required by the first clause of Article II, Section 3 of the constitution, which states that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Although Trump is required by the Constitution to deliver an annual message, he can’t just show up whenever he wants. The rules of the House of Representatives require him to have an invitation before he can enter the House chamber, an American adaptation of the British tradition by which the House of Commons is off-limits to the sovereign.

The modern history of presidents addressing a joint session of Congress began in 1913 under President Woodrow Wilson, ending more than a century of presidents who fulfilled that obligation by submitting a written report to Congress.

While the next two presidents returned to written submissions, President Franklin Roosevelt revived Wilson’s innovation and turned it into the modern, nationally-broadcast event to which Americans have become accustomed.

Nancy Pelosi’s letter to Trump: Letter-to-President-Trump-SOTU.

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Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anything else you can think of for BeltwayBreakfast.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com. Andrew has reported on policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007, and his writing has appeared in publications like The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Silicon Angle, and Washington Business Journal. He has also appeared on both daytime and prime radio and television news programs on NPR, Sirius-XM, CNN, MSNBC, ABC (Australia), Al Jazeera, NBC Digital, Voice of America, TV Rain (Russia) and CBS News. Andrew wishes he could say he lives in Washington, DC with his dog, but unfortunately, he lives in a no-dogs building in suburban Maryland.

Eyes on 2020

As Democrats Battle to Challenge Trump, Do Senators Have a Newfound Advantage?

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Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Cory Booker at "March to Save Our Care" Rally at the U.S. Capitol on June 28, 2017/Mobilus In Mobili

WASHINGTON, January 31, 2019 — Nine Senate Democrats have either announced a 2020 presidential campaign, launched an exploratory committee, or are mulling whether to seek a promotion from the Senate to the White House that the American people have granted only three times in one hundred years.

Experts are divided over whether, the age of Donald Trump’s precedent-shattering victory, old norms about presidential expectations still apply.

While senators have won their parties’ nominations regularly, only three — Warren Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama — have gone directly from the Senate to the Oval Office by prevailing in a general election. 

According to presidential historian Allan Lichtman, the reason so many well-credentialed senators have stumbled on the path between the legislative and executive branches is the nature of a senator’s job.

“You have a voting record, which inevitably is going to have elements in it that open you up to attack and criticism, and if your experience is solely limited to the legislature, you don’t have the executive experience that at least traditionally has been considered an important part of the credentials to run for president,” Lichtman said.

But Lichtman, an American University professor known for his presidential election prediction model, cautioned BeltwayBreakfast that in light of the last presidential election, past may no longer be prologue.

“In the era of Trump, all this may be obsolete,” he said, explaining that the 45th president’s brand of “anything goes kind of politics” renders old measures of qualification and disqualification meaningless. “The credentials may make no difference whatsoever anymore.”

As a result, he posits that holding a governorship — once a far more reliable springboard to the presidency — may no longer be the best career path for those who aspire to the highest office in the land. Governors, he said, seem to have a much harder time getting the attention one needs to mount a run.

The ability to get on television excites the base more than pragmatic governing at the state level

“We’re in an era of politics where your ability to get on television, get a national profile and excite the base of your party has become most important,” he said.

Lichtman added that in an era when executive experience “doesn’t seem to matter very much” to voters –   the nationalization of American politics and the ubiquity of cable news gives senators, whose jobs give them the ability to appear on TV to discuss the televised speech or hearing statement they delivered earlier that day, a built-in advantage.

One veteran politico who seconded Lichtman’s suggestion of a new senatorial advantage is Mark McKinnon, who helped shepherd then-Texas Governor George W. Bush to a narrow win in the 2000 election. 

“I think governors are at a greater disadvantage than they used to be,” said McKinnon, who is currently a co-executive producer of Showtime’s “The Circus.”  “It used to be that all politics was local, now all politics are national.”

Senators, McKinnon added, draw a significant advantage from being located in the “media hub” that is the nation’s capital.

“The entire focus of the media universe is in Washington right now,” he said.

As many as nine Senate Democrats could eventually look to prove Lichtman and McKinnon right by showing the Senate to be a viable launchpad for a White House run.

First-term Californian Kamala Harris officially jumped into the race on Martin Luther King, Jr. day, an auspicious date for a campaign that is banking on a young, diverse emerging majority to make 2020 the year demographics finally become destiny for Democrats.

New Yorker Kirsten Gillibrand is counting on her years of advocacy for women to help her finally break through the glass ceiling Hillary Clinton allowed to emerge unbroken from 2016, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren hopes her history of economic justice advocacy will let claim the mantle of the candidate who best represents the hopes of the “99 percent.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is reportedly close to announcing a second bid for the Democratic nomination, and Ohio veteran Sherrod Brown recently announced his own “Dignity of Work” listening tour of early primary states. Also contemplating White House runs are Sens Cory Booker, D-N.J, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. 

Democrats’ control of governorships at lowest level in a century

Though Democrats’ control of governorships has been at the lowest level in a century, there are a few whose names have been floated as potential entrants into a field crowded enough to put the GOP’s 2016 primary slate to shame. 

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a former member of the House of Representatives, has sought to boost his name recognition with TV appearances over the past month, and the name of Democratic Governors’ Association Steve Bullock, of Montana, has been on the lips of some as a potential contender as well.

Also considering a run is former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who emerged as a possible member of a speculated “unity ticket” with now-former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R).

One of McKinnon’s colleague from the George W. Bush campaign, Republican strategist Michael Turk, agreed the way political parties have nationalized most issues precludes states attempting the kind of policy experimentation that once let governors distinguish themselves in presidential primaries.

“The two political parties have tried to nationalize most issues, so it kind of precludes that sort of policy formation at the state level,” he said. “The more they do that, the less you’re going to have governors rise up because they don’t have the wiggle room to implement different policies at the state level.”

But not everyone is declaring governorships dead as a presidential stepping-stone. Democratic consultant Joe Trippi, who ran then-Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s groundbreaking 2004 primary campaign, predicted that the public’s low opinion of Congress means the trend of senators not being successful at the presidential level is not likely to change.

“The reason Senators don’t do well is the American people don’t have a very high regard for Washington, D.C., and they certainly don’t have one now,” said Trippi, who helped guide now-Senator Doug Jones, D-Ala. to a special election win last year.

He added that governors usually have an easier time of pointing to ways in which they got things done while in office.

“People respond to people who can actually run governments and know how to turn the light switches on,” Trippi said. “Particularly if the current office holder couldn’t find the chair in the Oval Office.”

With a large and crowded field, social media may be more important than television coverage

While Lichtman, McKinnon, and Turk pointed to senators’ easy access to television as a game-changer, Trippi predicted that the sheer size of the Democratic field will preclude most media from covering them all, meaning social media — not television — will be more of a factor for 2020. 

Governors can fight whatever advantage senators can get with constant TV exposure by drawing contrasts and stressing their experience dealing with often-raucous state legislatures.

“It’s not that you have to be at the hearings standing up to Trump’s nominees,” he said. 

“Do not underestimate how people despise anyone who’s gone to Washington and become part of the problem. It’s hard to get that off of you [to longer] have that whiff over the campaign if you don’t have accomplishments.”

One of the masterminds behind President Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory added three more hurdles to the list of those facing the Senate Democrats running for the 2020 nomination.

James Carville predicts failure if Democrats following a ‘base strategy’

In a phone interview with BeltwayBreakfast, veteran strategist James Carville said the difficulties stemming from minority status in the Senate, the Republican president in the White House, and the relatively short time to distinguish themselves from a field already crowded with their own colleagues will hamper any Senate Democrat’s presidential ambitions. 

“How are you in the minority in the Senate going to prove to people you can govern? The truth of that is you probably can’t in the time left,” Carville said, noting the slim odds of either Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., allowing a vote on a Democrat-supported bill or President Trump signing one. 

“I doubt any…Democratic senator is going to come up with a brilliant policy initiative that is going to be signed into law between now and the election.”

Carville, who retired from domestic political consulting after the 1992 election, predicted that the memory of 2016 will factor heavily into how Democrats vote in 2020.

“The trauma that 2016 inflicted on the Democratic party cannot be overestimated,” he said, citing recent polling data that shows Iowa caucus goers prefer a “seasoned candidate” by a double-digit margin.

“To the extent we know what Iowa caucus-goers are thinking, they’re very much in a mood that we need a seasoned candidate who can win the election,” he said. 

Carville suggested the adage that Democrats fall in love while Republicans fall in line behind their chosen candidate may not apply with a Democratic party chastened by 2016 and a Republican party that has largely become a personality cult devoted to President Trump.

Normally Democrats love someone who can excite them, who can make them feel good about themselves and the party,” he said. “But the Republicans are not in any kind of line other than the Trump line, and I’m not sure the Democrats are not in a more pragmatic mood and are ready to cue up as opposed to melt down.”

That pragmatism, Carville predicted, could lead Democrats to look once more to a governor who can connect with a broader swath of the American electorate, rather than following a mirror-image of Trump’s “base strategy” by appealing to urban voters and minorities. 

While he acknowledged that a strategy focused on core Democratic constituencies can win more votes, Carville warned that unless Democrats get better at “math and maps” be recognizing that an “emerging majority strategy” is neither guaranteed to deliver the electoral college to Democrats nor ensure Democratic control of the Senate.

“There’s a certain segment of the Democratic party that would rather lose with that coalition than win with a broad-based appeal,” he said, adding that national Democrats should remember that most of freshman House Democrats who won in 2018 did so with pragmatic campaigns tailored to voters in their districts.

Additionally, Carville stressed that a potential candidate’s coattails are going to be an important variable when calculating who is most likely to win the presidency. He suggested that governors with a record of balancing progressive beliefs with pragmatic governance — particularly someone like Scott Bullock of Montana, who can appeal to middle Americans — could bring that broad-based appeal to the campaign trail.

“As long as 18 percent of the country controls 50 percent of the Senate, there’s a limit to what the emerging progressive majority can do. Without North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, or Maine, how are you going to field a national campaign?” he asked.

“You can get all the votes you want, but if you don’t control the Senate, you’re SOL in half of one branch of government and SOL in another whole branch of government [the courts].

It’s the senators-versus-governors theories of presidential politics

Carville’s contention that a governor has the best chance of winning the nomination put him odds with Lichtman, the professor who predicted Donald Trump’s shocking victory.

To Lichtman, neither of the two predominant notions of “electability” have any basis in history.

“These are just completely bogus notions that cannot be sustained, and yet people absolutely seem to cling to them,” Lichtman said.

“Nobody knows who’s electable — you never know who’s going to catch the imagination.”

This story has been updated to reflect the fact that  Joe Trippi did not work with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign. We regret any confusion and invite readers to speculate on whether or not former Rep. O’Rourke would now be Senator O’Rourke had Mr. Trippi been in his employ.

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Congress

Longest Shutdown in History Will End After Trump Accepts Democrats’ Solution

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President Donald Trump announces the end of the longest government shutdown in American history on January 25, 2019 (Breakfast Media / Andrew Feinberg)

WASHINGTON, January 25, 2019 — In the end, the longest partial government shutdown in American history was just a tale full of sound and fury, and will probably signify nothing.

More than a month of bluster and bravado came to an end Friday as a very subdued President Donald Trump acknowledged – in front of his entire staff, his cabinet, and the world – what had become clear over the past few days: He would not be getting the $5.7 billion in border wall funding that he had been demanding as a condition for reopening the government.

“In a short while, I will sign a bill to open out government for three weeks, until February 15,” Trump said as he addressed television cameras in White House Rose Garden.

“After 36 days of spirited debate and dialogue, I have seen and heard from ehough Democrats and Republicans that they are willing to put partisanship aside — I think — and put the security of the American people first.”

No longer able to dictate legislative priorities to a Congress controlled entirely by his party, Trump said a House-Senate conference committee will spend the next 21 days hammering out the details of a homeland security appropriations package “based on operational guidance from the experts in the field.”

Trump said he hopes that both Republicans and Democrats on the committee “will operate in good faith” during negotiations, which he called “an opportunity for all parties to work together for the benefit of our whole beautiful, wonderful nation.”

The president initially implied that Democrats, who he said “fully and finally acknowledged that having barriers, fencing, or walls — or whatever you want to call it– will be an important part of the solution.”

“We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shining sea — — we never did; we never proposed that; we never wanted that – because we have barriers at the border where natural structures are as good as anything that we can build,” he said. “They’re already there.”

Instead, the proposed structure Trump outlined appeared to be largely along the lines of the “smart wall” Democrats have supported all along.

The remainder of the roughly 20-minute speech was a composed of the same immigration and wall-related talking points Trump has recited at countless campaign rallies and other venues, including a televised Oval Office address delivered in prime time.

Trump still spoke of crime and drugs, of women being bound, gagged and driven across the border by smugglers who “turn right or left.”

He still invoked the perils of “catch-and-release,” and the need for a “powerful wall or steel barrier.”

But he seemed a little less spirited than normal as he once again threatened to either shut down the government again or “use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States” to declare a national emergency if the conference committee’s product does not meet his standards.

After thanking Americans for listening, Trump took no questions and walked away, head down, shoulders slumped.

If there was any doubt that Trump had caved in the face of a united opposition from Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left no doubt that this was the case when he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed reporters.

“The president has agreed to our request to open the government and then debate border security, which is great news for the 800,000 government workers and millions of Americans who depend on government services,” Schumer said.

Schumer took care to note that the solution Trump was now endorsing — reopening the government prior to negotiating — was the one Democrats had insisted on from the beginning.

“Today the president will sign the bill to reopen the government along the outlines of what he proposed, and hopefully, it means a lesson learned for the White House and many four Republican colleagues — shutting down the government over a policy difference is self-defeating,” he said. “We cannot hold government workers hostage again.”

One source close to the White House said that Trump’s decision to accept the Democrats’ proposal went against the advice of many of his advisers.

“I think [Trump] was boxed into a corner and feels out of control,” said the source. “Everyone’s disappointed, there’s defeat in the air, and there’s skepticism that anything good is going to come out of this.”

As for who is getting blamed for the White House’s first legislative defeat since Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. scuttled Republicans’ repeal of Obamacare, the source said “a lot of people” are blaming Jared Kushner, the president’s Senior Advisor, son-in-law, and emissary to Capitol Hill during the shutdown.

Columnist Ann Counter, one of the conservative commentators whose criticism had prompted Trump to shut down the government five weeks ago, appeared to agree that Kushner, who has been deeply involved in negotiations to end the shutdown, was to blame.

Shortly after Trump finished speaking, Coulter tweeted: “Maybe the solution to the border crisis is not deporting 22 million illegals but one Jared Kushner.”

Pro-Trump commentator Mike Cernovich also took to Twitter with an even more pessimistic take on the situation, writing that Trump was now “a broken man.”

“It’s over for him,” Cernovich tweeted.

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Congress

Pelosi Again Rejects Trump’s Demand to Address Joint Session During Shutdown

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WASHINGTON, January 23, 2019 — Despite his insistence to the contrary, President Donald Trump won’t be addressing a joint session of Congress on January 29, at least according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

After suggesting last week that his annual message to Congress be postponed or delivered in writing while the government remains in a partial shutdown, Pelosi made the suggestion a command by informing Trump that so long as the government remained closed, she would not be calling a vote on the concurrent resolution required to hold a joint session of Congress.

“I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when the government has been opened,” Pelosi said Thursday in a letter to the president.

Delivering a message to Congress on the State of the Union is one of the president’s required duties, which are laid out in Article II of the Constitution. Article II, Section 3 of that document says that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

The tradition of a nationally-broadcast address began with the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose annual message was piped into radios nationwide.

But in a letter last week, Pelosi suggested that Trump return to the 19th century practice of sending a written message to Congress, citing the strain on law enforcement officers who’ve been forced to work without pay since the longest partial shutdown in US history began 33 days ago.

As of Tuesday, it appeared that Trump was choosing to ignore Pelosi’s letter, as White House officials were still reaching out to their Capitol Hill counterparts to arrange a “walk-through” by members of the president’s advance team.

By Wednesday morning, Trump was attempting to force the issue with a letter telling Pelosi that he looked forward to delivering his speech on the 29th.

“It would be so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location!” Trump wrote.

Rule IV of the House rules does grant so-called floor privileges to the “the President and his private secretary,” but those privileges do not include the right to be recognized while the House is in session. A tradition dating back to Charles II of England requires that a formal invitation be extended before the president can address Congress.

After Trump sent his letter to Pelosi on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made a show of signing on to sponsor the concurrent resolution that would constitute Trump’s formal invitation But Pelosi’s decision forecloses any possibility of him addressing Congress from the House chamber next week.

Trump reacted to Pelosi’s invocation of constitutional prerogatives by telling reporters that the speaker “is afraid of the super-left Democrats, the radical Democrats” and “doesn’t want to hear the truth.”

“What’s going on in that party is shocking,” he added, calling the Democratic Party “a very, very dangerous party for this country.”

“What she’s doing to our constitution is a disgrace,” he said. “It’s a very, very bad for our country and a horrible precedent.”

Despite Trump’s claim that Pelosi was setting a “horrible precedent,” she is not the first speaker of the House to deny permission to address the House over concerns that he might use the opportunity to attack or embarrass him or her.

In 1986, then-House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. denied then-President Ronald Reagan permission to speak to the House before a vote on whether to approve an aid package for Nicaraguan rebels, calling the proposed speech a “cheap political trick” meant to embarrass him.

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