The Hill's Morning Report — Washington searches for answers as shutdown hits 24 days




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 The NFL is down to its final four. The Los Angeles Rams will play the New Orleans Saints in Louisiana on Sunday at 3:05 p.m. and the New England Patriots travel to Arrowhead Stadium to play the Kansas City Chiefs at 6:40 p.m.

❆  Federal offices in the Washington region are closed today because of heavy snowfall on Sunday. Emergency employees and telework employees will continue to work (the change does not apply to furloughed workers “already in a non-work status,” according to the Office of Personnel Management). Announcement HERE.


Lawmakers return to snow-covered Washington today with negotiations to reopen the government still frozen in place for a record 24th day.

No talks occurred over the weekend, although Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRestlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Senator-jurors who may not be impartial? Remove them for cause Broad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa MORE (R-S.C.) says he asked President TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE to reopen the government and negotiate for more border wall money later.

“He’s not going to give in.” — Graham on "Fox News Sunday."

Several other options are also off the table for the time being.

The president has backed away from his threat to circumvent Congress by declaring a national emergency to redirect money for the border wall, which would have paved the way for the government to reopen but would also have opened the spigot on a stream of legal challenges.

Trump ran into opposition from within his own party on that front, with conservatives worrying that it would set a precedent that could be exploited by a future Democratic president.

“I would hate to see it. Using that act, it would be — in this instance would be a far larger act than has ever occurred in the past.” — Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonNadler gets under GOP's skin Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Senators opt to drink milk on Senate floor during impeachment trial MORE (R-Wis.) on CNN’s “State of the Union”

And a potential collaboration to provide a pathway to citizenship for those protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in exchange for more border wall money is going nowhere in the Democratic-controlled House.

Will growing pressure in the fourth week of the shutdown move the two sides to a deal?

Trump and lawmakers may want to resolve the shutdown before leaving for the long Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, but so far neither side has been negotiating with a sense of urgency.

The Hill: No clear path forward as shutdown enters fourth week.

The Associated Press: Congress to face same question. When will shutdown end?

Meanwhile, stories about the real-world fallout from the shutdown are provoking anger and frustration in Washington and across the nation. About 400,000 federal workers have been furloughed and another 400,000 are working without pay, including border officials caught in the dispute over a wall.

Trump is expected to sign legislation this week guaranteeing back pay for federal workers, but many federal employees are hurting in the interim.

"The people we depend upon to find explosives in luggage, to find weapons in luggage, the people we depend upon to secure our borders, to look for contraband at ports, to look for narcotics at courts are the people under great stress right now because of this shutdown. And it must be leading — I think I know this work force — it must be leading to all kinds of uncertainty, stress and anxiety and, frankly, anger and resentment." — Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on CBS’s “Face the Nation”

The Los Angeles Times: Border security workers miss paychecks.
The New York Times: Transportation Security Administration workers strike, raising turmoil at airports. A security checkpoint at Houston’s main airport is closed.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned last week that it’s only a matter of time before the impact of the shutdown shows up in the economic data.

The Wall Street Journal: Recession odds rise amid shutdown
The Hill: Five ways the shutdown is impacting the economy.




INVESTIGATIONS: Hearings for William Barr, Trump’s pick to be the next attorney general, begin on Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Barr is expected to be confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate, but Democrats will first demand ironclad assurances that he commit to allowing special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE to complete his investigation, especially after a pair of bombshell reports dropped over the weekend about Trump and Russia.

The New York Times: FBI opened inquiry into whether Trump was secretly working for Russia.

The Washington Post: Trump concealed details of meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Those reports set off a predictable firestorm of reactions inside Washington, with Democrats sounding the alarm that the president might be a Russian agent and Republicans declaring that the FBI is engaging in a political war against the president.

Rather than denying the allegations, the strategy from the president and top administration officials has so far been to say that questions about whether Trump worked for or with Russia are too outlandish to dignify a response.

“I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.” — Trump during an interview on Fox News Channel on Saturday

I’m not going to comment on New York Times stories, but I’ll certainly say this — the notion that President Trump is a threat to American national security is absolutely ludicrous … The idea that’s contained in the New York Times story that President Trump was a threat to American national security is silly on its face and not worthy of a response.” — Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Overnight Defense: Trump downplays troops' concussion injuries in Iran attack | Dems offer case against Trump on day two of trial | UN links Saudis to hack of Bezos' phone Pompeo willing to testify in impeachment trial if 'legally required' MORE on CBS’s “Face the Nation”

More from the investigations front … Top Dems raise intimidation, obstruction questions in response to Trump’s comments on Michael Cohen (The Hill) … Trump confronts possibility of nonstop war for political survival (The New York Times) … Domestic influence campaigns borrow from Russia’s playbook (The Hill) … Developments around Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDOJ releases new tranche of Mueller witness documents Treasury adviser pleads guilty to making unauthorized disclosures in case involving Manafort DOJ argues Democrats no longer need Mueller documents after impeachment vote MORE trigger new “collusion” debate (The Hill) … Senate Democrats will try to force a vote on Treasury’s decision to ease sanctions on Russian firms (The Associated Press).


POLITICS: The Democratic presidential field is taking shape.

The Los Angeles Times: Who’s in and who’s on the fence?

Over the weekend, Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardGabbard suing Clinton for defamation over 'Russian asset' comments Gabbard knocks Clinton's jab at Sanders: 'This isn't high school' The data is clear: A woman could win in 2020 MORE (D-Hawaii) said she’s decided to run and will make a formal announcement in the coming weeks. Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran and the first-ever Hindu member of Congress, lacks national name recognition but could be an intriguing vice presidential pick.

Gabbard, a progressive who backed Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden MORE (I-Vt.) in 2016, has at times differed with establishment figures in her party.

The Hill: Gabbard, Hirono clash shocks Hawaii.

Haaretz: Tea with Assad, hugs with Adelson: Gabbard’s unique views on Israel and the Middle East appeal to some right-wing evangelicals.



Also announcing over the weekend, from his home state of Texas: Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro (D), who is running to be the nation’s first-ever Hispanic president.

In his launch speech, Castro cast himself as a progressive on issues that are sure to light up the liberal base, from health care to climate change.

San Antonio Express: Castro announces his candidacy for president.



Meanwhile, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisCalifornia Democrat Christy Smith launches first TV ad in bid for Katie Hill's former House seat Steyer spokesperson: 'I don't think necessarily that Tom has bought anything' Biden wins endorsement of Sacramento mayor MORE (D-Calif.) is moving closer to a bid. She’ll visit the early primary state of South Carolina later this month (Politico).

The San Francisco Chronicle: Inside Harris’s stint in the Senate.

U.S. News and World Report: Harris is laughing on her way to a presidential bid.

Democrats are debating whether the party should look to its deep bench of young, up-and-coming candidates or whether their elder statesmen and women are the best to put up against Trump.

Former President Obama made headlines last week by saying the party needs “new blood,” a comment that raised eyebrows about former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden MORE, who spent nearly five decades in elective politics.

Amie Parnes reports that Obama still loves his old friend and views him as a top tier potential challenger (The Hill). But would Obama endorse Biden (or any leading contender) during the primaries? Unlikely.

More from campaigns and politics … Democrats see Florida drifting away (The New York Times) … Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two Patrick backs reparations in unveiling 'Equity Agenda for Black Americans' Booker ahead of Trump impeachment trial: 'History has its eyes on us' MORE (D-N.J.) tries to shake doubts about pharmaceutical ties ahead of 2020 (The Hill).

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Both sides must compromise to end the longest shutdown in our history, by Doug Schoen, opinion contributor, The Hill.

Syria is too complex to make decisions in 280-characters, even for a president, by James Cook, opinion contributor, The Hill.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Kevin Brock, a former FBI assistant director of intelligence; New Hampshire political reporter Paul Steinhauser, on the presidential campaign of Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Biden, Sanders tax plans would raise less revenue than claimed: studies MORE (D-Mass.); and a second installment of a conversation with Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.                         

The House meets at noon.

The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and resumes consideration of the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act.

The president flies to New Orleans to speak to the American Farm Bureau Federation convention at midday (The New Orleans Advocate).

Secretary Pompeo is traveling in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait through Jan. 15. Almost half of State Department employees in the United States and about one-quarter overseas are furloughed during the shutdown. The balance are working without pay. Pompeo says despite the funding lapse, all U.S. ambassadors will fly to Washington at government expense for a previously scheduled conference in Washington on Jan. 16-17 (The New York Times).


> Teachers: As Los Angeles public school teachers prepare today to strike for the first time in 30 years in the nation’s second-largest school district, a big question lingers. Where’s the money? (The Los Angeles Times).

> Syria: Syrian President Bashar Assad is making a comeback in power, inching back into the fold of Arab nations. Assad’s troops are primed to retake an area they abandoned at the height of the country’s civil war, now in its eighth year. This would be a significant step in restoring Assad’s control over all of Syria (The Associated Press).

> Brexit: Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to experience a significant defeat on Tuesday when the British Parliament votes on a much-criticized deal she negotiated in accordance with the will of British voters to leave the European Union by the end of March. The fate of Brexit represents Britain’s biggest shift in foreign and trade policy in more than 40 years (Reuters)

> Tipping: Budget airline Frontier changed its policies on Jan. 1 and now encourages passengers to tip individual flight attendants for services. The question in the industry is whether tipping policies will change at other airlines (CNBC).

> Species: DNA of red wolves that were declared extinct nearly 40 years ago survives in the wild. Genetic analysis discovered that certain canines in Galveston, Texas, appear to be hybrids of the thought-to-be-extinct red wolf and coyote (The Associated Press).




And finally … Organizations, communities, state agencies and businesses are coming up with creative ways to help those hardest hit by official Washington’s inability to keep the entire government up and running. Here are a few examples.

Chicago: Free lunches this week will be offered to furloughed federal workers in the Windy City’s South Side neighborhood of Beverly, made possible by Horse Thief Hollow Brewing Co. The owner calls the generosity the “Shutdown Special” (Forbes).

Canada: Air traffic controllers from Canada came up with what they called “pizza diplomacy” — pizza delivery — to U.S. counterparts in at least 35 locations, including Alaska, Long Island, Cleveland and Minneapolis in a show of support while their American colleagues are working without pay during the shutdown (CBC, photos HERE).

Cleveland: Beginning today and through the week, families whose incomes qualify have an opportunity to get free half-gallons of milk — U.S. Department of Agriculture surplus — from the Greater Cleveland Food Bank (Fox8).

Prince George’s County, Maryland: The county adjacent to Washington, D.C., created a website directory listing assistance programs and options for affected families in need during the shutdown. Find it HERE.

Nebraska: State workers are proactively trying to help beneficiaries of federal nutrition assistance, whose ongoing support or new sign-ups for February may be interrupted because of the federal shutdown (The Associated Press).

The four largest U.S. banks — Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America — have offered to work with their customers who are not receiving paychecks because of the federal impasse over funding the government (Redding Record).