The Hill's Morning Report - Lawmakers `cautiously optimistic’ about a border deal




Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report, and it’s Thursday! Our newsletter gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Co-creators are Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger (CLICK HERE to subscribe!). On Twitter, you can find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger.


A bipartisan group of lawmakers charged with negotiating a border security deal is “cautiously optimistic” they’ll reach an agreement to avert another government shutdown before the Feb. 15 deadline.

The 17 lawmakers from the House and Senate touched gloves on Wednesday, with Democrats signaling that they’re open to a compromise with President TrumpDonald John TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE.

There was no additional border wall money in the opening Democratic offer, which was heavy on new customs officers and technology for border agents to utilize at points of entry. The “wall” remains a sticking point.

During an interview with The Daily Caller on Wednesday, the president said, “I’ll get the wall.”  

“Right now, I'm saying no wall.” – Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a member of the bipartisan group seeking a deal and a centrist who could face a primary challenger in 2020.

But look for lawmakers on both sides to play word games to get around the issue of the wall, as they seek an agreement that will satisfy demands on both sides. Some amount of money allocated toward a “barrier” or “fencing” appears to be the most likely solution.

“I suspect we might have some discussions about terminology and words we use.” — Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Republican Tom Graves announces retirement from House Lawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms MORE (R-Ga.)

“Hint, hint, 300 miles of vehicle barriers. There's ways to get where we need to get.” — Cuellar

The Hill: Dems signal flexibility at border meeting.

The Hill: Dems give themselves some wiggle room on border talks.

Of course, whether any deal the group satisfies the president’s demand for wall money remains the big question hovering over Washington.



Trump does not have anyone representing him at the congressional meetings and there are no plans at this point for lawmakers to visit the White House.

While there’s no appetite anywhere for another shutdown, the president could still foil Congress’s best laid plans by declaring a national emergency at the end of it all.

The Associated Press: Less is more? Trump out of sight as border talks play out.


WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: The president this afternoon will raise the stakes with China over trade and protection of U.S. intellectual property with an Oval Office meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. Trump’s discussion with Liu takes place during Washington talks between the U.S. trade negotiating team and their Chinese peers, with a March deadline looming (NPR).

Venezuela: Trump used a congratulatory phone call to opposition leader Juan Guaidó on Wednesday to maintain international pressure on isolated President Nicolás Maduro to leave power. Trump also advised Americans to steer clear of Venezuela (The Hill).



Maduro has seesawed between threats aimed at the United States and conciliatory remarks about his willingness to hold talks with the opposition without calling for new elections. Twenty-six nations have recognized Guaidó as the country’s interim president (The New York Times).

Intelligence community: Republican lawmakers, exasperated by Trump's continued criticism of his respected intelligence chiefs, plan to send him a stern message by passing a resolution warning against a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. GOP senators want the Senate to stake out more legislative branch authority over foreign policy (The Hill).

Trump’s critiques of his top intelligence advisers via Twitter were not well received by either party in the Capitol (The Hill).



Energy Department: In secret, and against the wishes of the state of Nevada, the Trump administration trucked one-half metric ton of plutonium from South Carolina to a location north of Las Vegas. The Justice Department, which did not disclose the date of the shipment, notified a federal judge that the government moved the radioactive material before Nevada first asked a court to block the move in November. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) said he’s “beyond outraged” (The Associated Press).

Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Federal immigration officials are force-feeding six immigrants through plastic nasal tubes during a hunger strike that’s extended for a month inside a federal Texas detention facility. Eleven detainees at the El Paso Processing Center have been refusing food. Another four detainees are on hunger strikes in the agency’s Miami, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco areas of responsibility. The men say they stopped eating to protest verbal abuse and threats of deportation from guards (The Associated Press).

Department of Veterans Affairs: Veterans who live an average of 30 minutes drive-time away from a Veteran Affairs medical facility would be allowed to see a private doctor under proposed federal guidelines unveiled Wednesday. The new approach could potentially make private-sector health care available to more than a million more eligible veterans (The Hill).


POLITICS & 2020: Democratic voters are taking notice of Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThis week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Juan Williams: Black votes matter Clyburn: Biden 'suffered' from not doing 'enough' in early debates MORE (D-Calif.), boosting her into double-digit support in a poll for the first time since she officially launched her campaign this month.

The latest Politico-Morning Consult poll has former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE firmly in the lead at 33 percent, with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (I-Vt.) running a distant second at 15 percent. Harris, who was at 3 percent in the previous survey, comes in at 10 percent now and is the only other candidate with double-digit support.

Reid Wilson writes that Harris has caught on after a viral presidential launch that thrust her into the top of the Google search trends and generated buzz on Twitter (The Hill). Harris’s launch earned her about twice as much digital electricity as Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (D-Mass.).

Another new entry: Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Stocks close with second day of steep losses | Dow falls over 800 points as coronavirus fears grow | Kudlow claims virus has been contained | US expects China to honor trade deal amid outbreak Hillicon Valley: Agencies play catch-up over TikTok security concerns | Senate Dems seek sanctions on Russia over new election meddling | Pentagon unveils AI principles Senate Democrats urge Trump administration to impose sanctions on Russia for election interference MORE (D-Ohio), 66, kicked off a tour of early primary states on Wednesday ahead of a potential presidential run (Reuters).

Most but not all of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates back “Medicare for all.” But the embrace of the progressive idea by 2020 hopefuls has put a spotlight on a rift in the Democratic Party (The Hill).

The Congressional Black Caucus also finds itself in a sticky political situation, as members debate whether to support Harris or Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocrats' Obama-to-Sanders shift on charter schooling This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Juan Williams: Black votes matter MORE of New Jersey, who is expected to announce a presidential bid soon (The Hill).



One candidate who will not be winning any popularity contests among Democrats anytime soon: former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who is planning to run for president as an independent.

Democrats are livid, warning their base that his third-party bid could draw from their pool of voters and help elect Trump to a second term. Schultz is on a media blitz for his new book and is also getting rough treatment from the news media in Washington and New York.

It’s rare for a third-party or independent candidate to even make it to a presidential debate stage, but Democrats are trying to pressure Schultz to get out of the race before it even comes to that. Many Democrats blame Green Party candidate Jill Stein for spoiling the 2016 race for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic insiders stay on the sidelines in 2020 race Hillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 The Hill's Campaign Report: High stakes at last Democratic debate before Super Tuesday MORE, and very much view Schultz as a similar threat (at least one post-2016 election discussion refuted that theory HERE).

“I must be doing something right to create so much interests and backlash from the Democratic Party.” — Schultz on NBC

On the Republican side, Niall Stanage writes that Trump may be “at the nadir” of his presidency. The president’s poll numbers have fallen after the government shutdown and he continues to grapple with the special counsel probe and divided government (The Memo).

Will Trump draw his own primary challenger? William Weld, 73, the former governor of Massachusetts, said Thursday he’s considering it (WCVB).

More from Trump’s Daily Caller interview … Trump rips Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) for late term abortion remarks … says he’ll let Justice Department decide on whether to make special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s report public … claims he has not spoken to acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about the timeframe for the probe.

Perspectives and analysis ….

William A. Galston: An open letter to Schultz. You’ve told the country that if you run for president it would be as a `centrist independent outside of the two-party system.’ It’s a terrible idea.”

George F. Will: Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE (D-Minn.) is best equipped to send Trump packing.

The Washington Post Fact Checker: Why did Harris withhold support for special investigations of police shootings in California?

Jennifer Rubin: Why Democrats could use Michael Bloomberg about now.

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Venezuelans, the strength is in unity, by Juan Guaidó, opinion contributor, The New York Times.

The U.S. Space Force is overdue, by Vincent L. Pisacane, opinion contributor, The Hill.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features interviews with Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneRepublicans give Barr vote of confidence Key juror questioned in Roger Stone case Trump attacks Stone juror during hearing on motion for new trial MORE, Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Barr says he'll make surveillance reforms after damning watchdog report Trump Fed nominee stirs controversy ahead of hearing MORE (R-N.D.) and consumer advocate Erin Brockovich.

The House meets at noon in pro forma session. Speaker Pelosi holds her weekly press conference at 10:45 a.m.

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m.

The president will augment his 2017 executive order on “Buy American, Hire American” at 11:45 a.m. with an additional E.O. He will meet with China’s Liu in the Oval Office at 3:30 p.m.

Vice President Pence at 11:45 a.m. will be briefed at the Drug Enforcement Administration about federal actions against drug cartels at the southern border. Following the briefing, he’ll speak to employees. At 4:30 p.m., Pence participates in a ceremony for James Carroll to be director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The Commerce Department at 8:30 a.m. reports on jobless claims for the week of Jan. 26.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) sits down with journalist Robert Costa at a Washington Post newsmaker event that begins at 5:45 p.m. Christie is on a book tour for his memoir, "Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey. and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics." The discussion is live-streamed HERE.


> Economy: As expected, the Federal Reserve signaled an end to interest rate increases on Wednesday following a two-day meeting. The central bank said the economy remains “solid” and growing, but signaled caution with a “patient” approach in evaluating more data before shifting future monetary policy (The New York Times). The Fed’s statement drove financial markets higher.

Chairman Jerome Powell, during a news conference, also said another U.S. government shutdown could negatively impact the U.S. economy, largely by curtailing business and consumer confidence (The Hill).

Meanwhile, on the subject of employment, Wisconsin had been eager to welcome 13,000 manufacturing jobs with a new Foxconn plant, but the state may instead become home to a research campus because the Taiwan-based company now says flat-screen TVs are too expensive to make in the United States (The New York Times).

> Net neutrality: A panel of federal appeals court judges on Friday will hear oral arguments about the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the popular Obama-era net neutrality rules. The FCC voted to deregulate the broadband industry a year ago (The Hill).

> Drug companies: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyMcSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign Ernst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case MORE (R-Iowa) vowed this week that pharmaceutical companies, which have so far declined to appear before his panel, will find their way to Washington one way or another to respond to questions about their drug pricing. The question is how far GOP senators are willing to go to try to lower drug costs, an issue Trump told consumers he would tackle (The Hill).


And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz!

Inspired by Super Bowl 53, we’re eager for some smart guesses related to football championships.

Email your responses to or, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who ace all the questions will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.

Which of the following has not performed at a Super Bowl halftime show?

  1. Michael Jackson
  2. Beyonce Knowles
  3. Prince
  4. Garth Brooks

Patriots QB Tom Brady, 41, has 29 career playoff wins, 13 more than the next closest quarterback. Who is behind him in second place?

  1. Steve Young
  2. Peyton Manning
  3. Joe Montana
  4. Joe Namath

Which team won the first-ever Super Bowl in 1967?

  1. Green Bay Packers
  2. Dallas Cowboys
  3. New York Jets
  4. Chicago Bears

What is the approximate cost for a 30-second Super Bowl advertisement on TV this year?

  1. $2 million
  2. $3 million
  3. $4 million
  4. More than $5 million

Which of these was the first NFL franchise to be majority-owned by a woman?

  1. Los Angeles Rams
  2. New England Patriots
  3. Tennessee Titans
  4. Carolina Panthers