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The Looming Threat of a Government Shutdown May Be Overblown

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Photograph of President Trump during the State of the Union Address/Office of the House Speaker

WASHINGTON, December 17, 2018 — The uncertainty of looming government shutdown on December 21 will be on full display on Wednesday morning when Congress reconvenes for a last-ditch attempt to tackle the seven remaining must-pass appropriations bills to fund the government for fiscal year 2019.

At the White House, where President Trump said last week that he’d be “proud” to shut down the government should the House and Senate decline to fund his proposed wall along the order with Mexico, administration officials appeared slightly less excited about the prospect of putting roughly 800,000 federal employees out of work days before Christmas.

“We don’t want to shut down the government,” said White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp. “But we’ve got to find increased spending for border security.”

The president, Schlapp said, is “very focused” on obtaining the $5 billion he says is necessary in order to follow through on building a border wall that he promised, during the presidential campaign, would be paid for by the government of Mexico.

Although the administration may be striking a more optimistic and conciliatory tone leading into Wednesday’s negotiations, one former administration official who is close to Trump told BeltwayBreakfast that the president is not bluffing and remains fully prepared to embrace a shutdown if he does not get what he believes is necessary to secure the southern border.

“He has no problem taking responsibility for a government shutdown if he can’t negotiate with these guys,” said the former official. “They’ll ride it out for as long as it takes.”

Former Trump official says that a shutdown is not likely

Responding to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who on Sunday accused Trump of blocking a bipartisan deal with a “temper tantrum,” the former official was confident in the president’s ability to bend Democrats to his will.

“He can hit the target and he doesn’t blink,” he said. “He’s going to get the other guy to blink.”

Marc Short, who handled the administration’s relations with Capitol Hill until this past summer, acknowledged that the administration has “a lot to figure out” in the coming days. But he discounted the predictions of doom, gloom, and furloughs.

“I’m not convinced we’ll end up there,” he said, referring to the possibility of a shutdown.

Short pointed out that even if negotiations fail and funding lapses, the parts of the government that have been fully funded through the end of fiscal year 2019 are those that normally cause the most headaches. Those include the Department of Defense, and the Department of Health and Human Services that manages Medicare and Social Security.

Short also noted that the partial nature of any potential shutdown could allow for an extended stalemate, in which affected agencies remain closed without much disruption to the general public.

“The average person, I think, will not be impacted,” he said.

One member of Congress doesn’t think a shutdown will be catastrophic

One member of Congress who concurs with Short’s assessment is Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C, who noted that the portion of the government that would cease operations in the event of a funding lapse is relatively small in the grand scheme of things.

“You take out interest, you take out entitlement spending, you take out the large [appropriations] bills that have already gone through, we’re talking about only 8 percent of federal spending.”

A shutdown would mean Sanford, who is departing Capitol Hill for the second time after losing his seat to a primary challenger, is leaving the House in a similar condition to how he found it when he arrived in 1995 — in the throes of a shutdown crisis prompted by clashes between then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, and President Bill Clinton.

Sanford said the root causes of the 1995 funding lapse and the shorter ones seen under President Trump are the same.

“Strongly held opinion and disagreement leads to an impasse and a shutdown,” he said.

He acknowledged a major difference between the past and present situations, noting that in 1995, Republicans had a Democratic president to content with, whereas now they control both the executive and legislative branches.

“Typically you don’t see shutdowns on the same team, it’s usually Republicans versus Democrats that leads to a shutdown,” Sanford said.

“It’s certainly curious, odd, and different that it comes this way, but we are where we are.”

 

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Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anywhere else news happens for BeltwayBreakfast.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com. He 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.

White House

Despite Efforts To Calm Americans’ Fears, Trump’s Coronavirus Approval Drops

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Vice President Mike Pence greets sailors on the hospital ship USNS Comfort

President Donald Trump’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak in the United States is leaving Americans less than impressed.

A Morning Consult poll released Tuesday shows less than half of voters surveyed — 49 percent — approve of the president’s approach to dealing with the threat posed by the virus’ spread in the US.

The results of that poll, taken from February 28 to March 1, showed a marked drop from the 56 percent of voters who said they approved of Trump’s actions when surveyed from February 24 to February 26th, a decline caused by a 9-point drop in independents approving of his performance, as well as a 7-point drop among Democrats.

The same February 28-March 1 poll showed the number of voters who disapprove rising to 37 percent, which leaves the president’s net approval on the coronavirus issue at 12 points. That’s less than one third of what it was three weeks ago.

The president’s declining approval numbers on coronavirus come despite his attempts to project calm during two press conferences last week, during which he attacked Democrats for supposedly politicizing the issue.

Trump also tried to stem discontent in the financial markets by putting Vice President Mike Pence in charge of coordinating his administration’s response to the outbreak.

But Pence has a checkered history when it comes to public health matters. As governor of Indiana in 2015, the future Vice President presided over an outbreak of HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — among intravenous drug users that saw over 200 people infected.

Although Pence was advised by public health experts to declare a public health emergency and issue emergency regulations to allow needle exchanges to operate in Indiana (which bans them).

Citing his own belief that needle exchange programs encourage drug use (a belief which is contradicted by most public health experts), Pence refused to allow any such emergency measures until roughly two months after the outbreak peaked, when he approved an exchange which would operate for 30 days.

In 2018, Yale University epidemiologists found that the outbreak could have been stemmed had Pence and other state officials acted faster.

“Our findings suggest that with earlier action the actual number of infections recorded in Scott County — 215 — might have been brought down to fewer than 56, if the state had acted in 2013, or to fewer than 10 infections, if they had responded to the [hepatitis C] outbreak in 2010-2011,” the study’s lead author, Forrest W. Crawford, said at the time. “Instead, they cut funding for the last HIV testing provider in the county.”

Another of the paper’s authors, Yale University’s Gregg Gonsalves, tweeted on Wednesday that Trump’s decision to place Pence in charge of coronavirus response ““speaks to a lack of seriousness by the White House.”

When asked on Saturday whether he and Pence would pledge that politics and ideology would play no role in determining how the Trump administration responds to a coronavirus outbreak, Trump refused to do so.

Speaking in his own defense, Pence downplayed the seriousness of the 2015 outbreak, which he said occurred “in a very small town.”

“I think my experience as a governor, dealing with two different infectious diseases and seeing the vital role that local healthcare providers play, that federal officials play, it has really informed me,” he said.

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Trump’s Attempt To Delay Bolton Book Unlikely To Pass Muster With Courts, Experts Say

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President Trump is personally seeking to block publication of his former national security adviser’s book by asserting that any conversation with him is by its very nature classified.

The heretofore unprecedented theory would prevent Ambassador John Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser until last fall, from publishing his book, “The Room Where It Happened,” until either Trump relents and allows it or a judge intervenes after litigation that would undoubtedly delay the book’s publication until well past its announced March 7 release date.

According to The Washington Post, Trump has told aides that he will endeavor to block the book’s publication on the grounds that his conversations with Bolton are classified in their entirety, no matter the topic.

While the president has broad authority to declare information classified — or to declassify it — an assertion that all conversations between him and his national security advisor are classified would contradict the posture taken by the career National Security Council staff tasked with reviewing the manuscript prior to publication.

In a letter sent last month to Bolton attorney Charles Cooper, NSC records office senior director Ellen Knight warned that Bolton’s book “appear[ed] to contain significant amounts of classified information” which had been deemed top secret, but also maintained that the NSC would assist with revisions to excise that information so as to “move forward as expeditiously as possible.”

Knight, a career official whose role places her in charge of the prepublication review process, told Cooper that NSC staff would “do our best to work with you to ensure your client’s ability to tell his story in a manner that protects U.S. national security.”

Joshua Geltzer, a Georgetown University Law Center visiting professor who served as the NSC’s Senior Director for Counterterrorism from 2015-2017, said an assertion that any conversations between Bolton and the president are per se classified was unlikely to pass legal muster.

“At best, that’s mushing classification together with executive privilege,” he said. “Sometimes people think of [classification] as a form of privilege, but it’s not the same as the privilege that attaches to the communications between the President and his closest advisor.”

Geltzer said he would hope that the career NSC officials who’d normally review Bolton’s book would do their jobs “as they understand them to be best and correctly done,” but conceded that Trump could, in theory, overrule them.

If the President wants to overrule them, he definitely has that authority in many, many areas. But I would hope that their instinct is still to do the job correctly, rather than to do it incorrectly.”

Steven Aftergood, a physicist who heads the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said claiming any conversation with the president is classified would be an “unusually aggressive and expansive view of classification,” but said such an assertion would not necessarily pass legal muster because the White House would need to indicate to Bolton what information in the book is classified “with a degree of specificity.”

Knight, Aftergood said, would most likely not tolerate such an abuse of the prepublication review process because she is “a career professional who has spent decades distinguishing carefully between what is classified and what is not.”

If Bolton is forced to file suit to ensure publication of his manuscript, Geltzer said judges might not take kindly to such a sweeping declaration of classification in the post-Snowden era.

A judge, he said, could ask for the government to submit an ex parte affidavit — one that is submitted to the court without a copy being seen by the other side — explaining why certain information has been deemed classified at a level that disclosure would cause “grave harm” to national security.

But forcing Bolton to take the White House to court could backfire, he explained.

“Are they really going to claim that John Bolton, a hard, right conservative, is trying to jeopardize national security by disclosing classified information? Who is really going to believe that?” he asked.

“Everyone will understand what what game is being played right now if publication is is blocked, or significantly deferred,” he said. If his book is is delayed for months or longer, everyone will understand that it’s not because of national security reasons, but because of political ones.”

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Party-Line Votes Stop Schumer’s Subpoena Push

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The Senate has rejected a succession of amendments to the rules governing President Trump’s impeachment trial which would direct Chief Justice John Roberts to issue subpoenas to the White House and several executive branch agencies which refused to honor subpoenas issued during the House’s impeachment inquiry.

Senators voted along party lines, 53-47 to table a series of amendments offered to the proposed Republican-authored trial rules by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, which would have compelled the White House, the State Department, and the Office of Management and Budget to produce documents for the Senate to consider as evidence when deciding whether to remove Trump from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, condemned Democrats for objecting to the “very reasonable proposal” of using a process similar to that used to try President Bill Clinton in 1999.

“This seems to be a time for Adam Schiff and the house managers to attack the president and lecture the American people,” he said.

While speaking to reporters during a break in the trial, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar hit back against White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who during part of his arguments on Tuesday remarked that “some of you” (referring to senators who are currently running for the Democratic presidential nomination) “should be in Iowa” rather than sitting in the Senate chamber.

“I’ve made clear from the very beginning that I’ve got to do my constitutional duty,” she said.

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