Trump delivers State of the Union amid wall fight

President Trump is slated to deliver his second State of the Union address in the House chamber on Tuesday evening following the longest government shutdown in history.

The president is expected to focus on unity and the need to bridge the divide in the country during the speech, which will have a theme of “choosing greatness.” Trump is expected to urge Congress to compromise on a number of key issues such as immigration and trade, according to a senior administration official.

"I want to see our country united," Trump said last week during a pre-speech lunch with network news anchors. "If I could unite the country, I would consider it a tremendous success."

Trump’s speech before the joint session of Congress was initially scheduled to take place on Jan. 29. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) retracted his invitation, arguing it shouldn’t take place until after the government reopened.

The speech was rescheduled for Tuesday after Trump agreed to sign a three-week continuing resolution (CR) to allow Congress additional time to hash out a plan on border security. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is scheduled to deliver the Democratic response following the speech.

Washington will be watching Trump’s speech closely after he hinted that he could tip his hand on his plans to construct the U.S.-Mexico border wall during the primetime address.

Speaking with reporters on Friday, Trump suggested he may reveal more details about his plan to build the wall and advised people to “listen closely” to the speech.

Congress has less than two weeks, until Feb. 15, to get an agreement that prevents a second partial government shutdown that would impact roughly a quarter of the government.

Seventeen lawmakers have been tasked with crafting an agreement to break the months-long stalemate on Trump’s signature campaign issue, which has been the chief sticking point to getting a deal on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding.

Though negotiators met for the first time last week, and are working to set up meetings with border officials, the talks have been off to a slow start.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a member of the conference committee, told ABC’s “This Week” that negotiators “have got a chance this week to move things.”

“Will we? We don't know. The president could be right. We could be wasting our time. On the other hand, we could come up to a solution,” Shelby said.

Trump has demanded $5.7 billion for the wall—an amount that can neither pass the House or get 60 votes in the Senate. Democrats have flatly rejected funding for a concrete wall, but signaled some openness to funding for fencing or other physical barriers.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), another member of the committee, noted that “we do build new fencing all the time. That’s a regular occurance.”

“It’s the wall from sea to shining sea that became controversial,” he added.

Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the ability for the conference committee to get an agreement, warning that Republican members of the panel could be “wasting their time.” And he’s kept the option of declaring a national emergency on the table despite pushback from top Republicans.

“I think there’s a good chance we’ll have to do that,” Trump told reporters in the Cabinet Room of the White House.

The president also brought up the option during an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” when asked if he would shut down the government next week.

“I don't take anything off the table. I don't like to take things off the table. It's that alternative. It's national emergency, it's other things and you know there have been plenty national emergencies called. And this really is an invasion of our country by human traffickers,” Trump said.

Using a a national emergency declaration to build the wall would likely face an immediate challenge in the courts and spark fierce backlash on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers could use a resolution of disapproval to try to block him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly warned Trump that such a resolution could pass, forcing the president to issue his first veto. McConnell and other top Senate Republicans have also publicly pushed back against the president declaring a national emergency.

“I'm for whatever works, which means avoiding a shutdown and avoiding the president feeling he should declare a national emergency,” McConnell told reporters last week.

Sixty six percent of Americans say Trump should not declare a national emergency for the border wall if he can’t get funding from Congress, according to a CBS News poll released on Sunday.


Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is slated to publically testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.

The hearing is expected to center around his role in overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. He is also expected to be grilled on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions ouster from his position at the Department of Justice.

Whitaker came under scrutiny following criticisms of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Ethics officials have recommended he recuse himself from overseeing the probe in the wake of his remarks.

Whitaker is the first member of the administration to agree to testify publicly before the Democrat-controlled committee.

Syria policy

The Senate is expected to wrap up work on a foreign policy bill, after Republicans broke late last week with Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

The Senate will have three votes related to the bill on Monday evening starting at 5:30 p.m.

They’ll vote to formally add a resolution from McConnell, which warns the administration against a “precipitous” withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan, to the underlying foreign policy bill. Senators are expected to easily agree to include it in the legislation after overcoming a 60-vote hurdle last week to end debate on McConnell’s amendment.

They’re also expected to vote on a change to McConnell’s amendment proposed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), which would add a line to the resolution clarifying that it should not be “constructed as a declaration of war or an authorization of the use of military force."

They’ll also vote to end debate on the underlying foreign policy bill, setting up passage of the package as early as Tuesday.

The bill includes sanctions on the Syrian government and increased support for Jordan and Israel.

But the legislation has divided Senate Democrats because of an anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) provision, that would let states penalize businesses that take part in boycotts or divestments of Israel.

Twenty-two Democrats opposed advancing the underlying foreign policy bill earlier this week, including Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Sherrod Brown(Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren(Mass.). Sen Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats, also opposed it.


The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on William Barr’s attorney general nomination on Thursday.

Barr’s nomination was initially on the panel’s schedule for last week. But under committee rules nomination can, and routinely are, delayed.

Barr is meeting with some members of the Judiciary Committee ahead of the vote. He’s expected to meet with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Monday.

Barr previously served as attorney general during the George H.W. Bush administration, but his current nomination ran into controversy over an unsolicited memo he sent to the White House. Barr, in the memo, described Mueller’s probe as based on a “fatally misconceived” theory and would do “lasting damage” to the presidency.

Barr fielded several questions during his committee hearing last month on Mueller’s investigation. If confirmed, he would have oversight of the probe.

Barr told senators that he would let Mueller finish his investigation, that Trump would not be allowed to “correct” his final report and that he make Mueller’s findings public in accordance with the law.

Democrats face an uphill battle if they want to defeat Barr. Republicans hold a two-seat majority on the Judiciary Committee.

Once Barr’s nomination is before the full Senate, Democrats would need to flip four Republicans, and keep their caucus united, to sink his nomination.

Lands package

The Senate could take up a major federal lands package as soon as this week.

The legislation would reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It also includes provisions aimed at increasing recreational access to federal land, and has dozens of specific local provisions to add to national parks and other land holdings.

McConnell teed up an initial vote on the bill once the chamber wraps up its work on the foreign policy bill it's currently debating. The Senate tried to pass the lands package late last year but was blocked by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky. and Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Lee, speaking on the Senate floor in late December, said he wanted two words "for Utah" to be included in the Antiquities Act, which would prevent a president from creating or expanding national monuments without state approval in Utah.

"This bill creates 1.3 million acres of wilderness, about half of which is in my state," Lee argued, referring to the lands package. "Coming from a state where two-thirds of the land is owned by the federal government, where we can't do anything without leave from the federal government this hurts.”


Original Post can be found at The Hill