The Daily 202: Trump’s border wall brinkmanship may leave Republicans in Congress holding the bag – Washington Post

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THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump is doing more damage to the public image of congressional Republican leaders than any Democratic operative could in their wildest dreams.

The president’s threat to shut down the federal government if Congress does not pony up $1.6 billion for a border wall could further corrode his relationship with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. It might also cause additional damage to the Senate majority leader and House speaker’s standing with the Republican base.

By creating a new artificial crisis and making a demand that’s unlikely to be met, Trump is setting up his supporters to be disappointed once again. But he’s banking that Republicans on Capitol Hill will get blamed far more than him if the gambit fails.

Trump is probably right about this. Tony Fabrizio, who was the president’s pollster during the 2016 campaign, has just conducted a survey of GOP and GOP-leaning voters that found the congressional wing of the party has shouldered more blame than Trump for everything that’s gone wrong the past few months.

Everyone’s image has taken a hit. Fabrizio reports that Trump’s favorability rating has slipped from 78 percent among Republicans in June to 71 percent now. Ryan’s favorability has dropped from 56 percent to 52 percent in that period. McConnell has slipped the most, however. The Kentucky senator was viewed favorably by 38 percent of Republicans and unfavorably by 30 percent in Fabrizio’s June survey. Now he’s viewed favorably by 27 percent and unfavorably by 44 percent. Again, this is among Republicans.

Trump’s approval rating is 75 percent among Republicans in Fabrizio’s poll, but just 54 percent approve of the job Republicans in Congress are doing.

Asked who they blame more for the failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, 18 percent picked Trump and 82 percent picked Republicans in Congress.

What’s going on when Trump does not fulfill his campaign promises? In Fabrizio’s survey, 81 percent said it’s because “the Republicans in Congress didn’t support the president and blocked his promised proposal or policy.” Only 19 percent said it’s because, “The president didn’t work hard enough and do what was needed to be done to fulfill the promise.”

— Only about 1 in 3 Americans want to build the border wall, but they happen to be the same people who still support Trump. Even the right-wing polling firm Rasmussen, whose results skew Republican, found in an automated national poll last month that 56 percent of Americans oppose building a border wall “to help stop illegal immigration,” while 37 percent back it. A more reliable survey from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center showed in February that 35 percent support the wall and 62 percent oppose it.

Is that really a hill to die on? For Trump, who believes losing his core base of support could be fatal to his presidency, the answer is apparently yes. (Unless he’s bluffing, which is totally possible.)

— Trump’s base is happy because it looks like he’s taking steps to try following through on his promises. His shutdown threat was one of the biggest applause lines during his 76-minute speech at the Phoenix Convention Center.

The president’s 2020 reelection campaign is trying to build up its small-donor list by pressuring Senate Republicans to fund the wall. A mass email that went out under Trump’s name yesterday urged supporters to sign an “official” online petition. “I need your immediate help,” he wrote. “Let’s remind every single Senator the American VOTERS want this beautiful, impenetrable wall constructed. … This will only have an impact if EVERY American CITIZEN who understands the wall is a nonnegotiable signs this petition. … The Senate needs this urgent reminder that the American people want what they voted for. AS YOU SHOULD! We are so close to making this happen.” (In fact, they are not close at all.)

— GOP leaders on the Hill have no appetite for this fight, which they believe could derail the rest of their agenda. From Mike DeBonis, Damian Paletta and Elise Viebeck: “Republicans face a litany of high-stakes deadlines when they return to Washington after Labor Day: to extend funding for government agencies, raise the nation’s borrowing limit, and reauthorize programs for flood insurance and children’s health. GOP leaders also hope to begin an ambitious effort to rewrite the federal tax code in a bid to rescue their foundering legislative agenda. ‘So I don’t think anyone is interested in having a shutdown,’ Ryan said at a tax policy event in Oregon. ‘I don’t think it’s in our interest to do so.’ Ryan said the border wall should ultimately be funded, reflecting the wishes of most congressional Republicans … But he has refrained from engaging in Trump’s red-meat ‘build the wall’ rhetoric, in what GOP aides described as an effort to avoid poisoning upcoming negotiations with Democrats.”

Ryan went out of his way to downplay the prospects of a shutdown when asked about Trump’s Phoenix speech, predicting that Congress probably would pass a stopgap extension of funding to prevent a lapse when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30 even if the wall issue remains unresolved.

McConnell has been somewhat evasive whenever directly pressed on the issue of wall funding, pivoting to express support for tougher border security more generally. But Trump has also been pressuring him to get rid of the legislative filibuster, so that he would not need to get Democratic senators to cross over. The president continued to harp on this message yesterday:

Many Republicans still have a bad taste in their mouths from the health-care fight. House members walked the plank to vote for a toxically unpopular bill. Trump celebrated with them in the Rose Garden, but then he went on Fox News and called the legislation “mean.” This is something many lawmakers realize could be used against them in attack ads next year. They also worry that the same thing could happen again on a budget or a tax bill.

To be sure, threatening a shutdown is not without risk for the president. Trump got rolled in April negotiations to keep the government funded through the end of September. Realizing he’d been outmaneuvered by Democrats and upset about news coverage that made him look like bad at making deals — which so much of his identity is wrapped up in — he lashed out by threatening a shutdown in the fall. “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” Trump tweeted on May 2.

That time is drawing nigh. If Trump caves once again and signs a budget without funding for the wall, it could make him look weak and ineffective. If there is a protracted shutdown, on the other hand, independents and moderate Republicans might blame him.

This would be first shutdown in American history to happen when the same party controls both Congress and the White House. Every other shutdown has happened when presidents and leaders on the Hill from opposite parties were at loggerheads. It would make the GOP look incapable of governing. It could spook markets and donors.

— Trump will meet in the Oval Office at 11:45 a.m. today with the OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, his legislative affairs team and Vice President Pence to discuss their September strategy.

— While most congressional Republicans are supportive of a wall, there are some key holdouts. “Shutting the government down for $1.5 billion of a concrete structure doesn’t make sense,” Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), who represents a district on the border with Mexico that Hillary Clinton carried last year, said on PBS “NewsHour” last night.

— Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is among the Republicans who have expressed skepticism publicly about Congress funding the wall.

Trump attacked Flake again on Twitter yesterday:

Shortly before taking the stage in Phoenix on Tuesday evening, the president met privately with two of Flake’s prospective primary challengers: state Treasurer Jeff DeWit and Robert Graham, former Arizona GOP chairman. “Trump ripped the Arizona senator during the brief meeting, calling him ‘the flake,’” Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports. “Trump … told DeWit and Graham, both of whom have aligned with the president, to get back to him about their interest in running. Also participating in the huddle was Rep. Trent Franks, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus who appeared at the rally. At one point, Franks told the president that either DeWit or Graham would make strong challengers to Flake.”

— The border battle is escalating amid deeper tensions between the president and his adopted party on Capitol Hill. Much of Trump’s recent contact with key players on Capitol Hill has been counterproductive.

Trump has been lashing out at Republican lawmakers for not giving him more support in the face of mounting Russia-related investigations.

He even called Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on Aug. 7 to complain about a bill he’d just introduced that would make it harder for him to fire Robert Mueller as special counsel, Politico reported last night.

Two days after that, Trump phoned McConnell from his New Jersey golf club to berate him for the failure of the health-care bill. “He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election,” the New York Times reported, adding that the call “quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.”

Trump also tried unsuccessfully to persuade Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) to back off the Russia sanctions legislation, arguing that the bill would damage his presidency. The Foreign Relations Committee chairman held firm.

Since coming into the West Wing, chief of staff John Kelly has tried to curb Trump’s unscheduled interactions with legislators, senior administration officials say,” per Politico’s Josh Dawsey and Elana Schor. “Trump has been known to see a senator on TV or think about an issue and immediately ask White House assistant Madeleine Westerhout to dial the senator. But Kelly has asked that senior White House aides, such as legislative affairs head Marc Short, be present for the calls‚ and for Trump to be briefed in advance on the topic.”

— McConnell and the White House issued statements yesterday trying to make things look hunky dory.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump and McConnell “remain united on many shared priorities, including … constructing a southern border wall…” “They will hold previously scheduled meetings following the August recess to discuss these critical items with members of the congressional leadership and the President’s Cabinet,” she said.

McConnell’s statement mentioned a host of “shared goals” that he is in “regular touch” with the administration about, including the budget, but notably he omitted any mention of the border wall: “We are working together to develop tax reform and infrastructure legislation so we can grow the economy and create jobs; to prevent a government default; to fund the government so we can advance our priorities in the short and long terms; to pass the defense authorization and defense appropriations bills so we can support our troops and help implement an effective strategy against ISIL; to provide relief from Obamacare; and to continue our progress for our nation’s veterans.”


— “The White House is expected to send guidance to the Pentagon in coming days on how to implement a new administration ban on transgender people in the military,” the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold reports. “The White House memo also directs the Pentagon to deny admittance to transgender individuals and to stop spending on medical treatment regimens for those currently serving, according to U.S. officials familiar with the document. The 2½-page memo gives Mr. [James] Mattis six months to prepare to fully implement the new ban, according to these officials. Mr. Mattis under the new policy is expected to consider ‘deployability’ — the ability to serve in a war zone, participate in exercises or live for months on a ship — as the primary legal means to decide whether to separate service members from the military, the officials said. …

“Employing the criteria of deployability to remove service members is bound to be greeted with deep opposition. ‘Transgender people are just as deployable as other service members,’ said Sue Fulton, the former president of Sparta, a military organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that advocates for open service. ‘Other service members may undergo procedures when they are at home base, just as other service members schedule shoulder surgery or gall bladder surgery.’”


  1. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) has repeatedly questioned Barack Obama’s place of birth. As recently as December, Moore speculated that the former president was not a natural-born citizen. Moore faces Sen. Luther Strange (R) in a Sept. 26 runoff for Jeff Sessions’s former seat. (CNN)
  2. The U.S. Army has suspended numerous drill sergeants at its Fort Benning, Ga., training center as officials investigate allegations of sexual assault against at least one trainee. (Dan Lamothe)
  3. The U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin and Raytheon separate $900 million contracts to begin development of a new nuclear cruise missile. The award comes just days after the Air Force moved to reoutfit the Pentagon’s ground-based ballistic missiles. (Aaron Gregg)
  4. U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Raqqa are killing hundreds of civilians each month, according to monitoring groups — deepening safety concerns for the thousands of families trapped inside the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria. (Louisa Loveluck)
  5. A federal judge who previously compared Texas’s voter ID requirements to a “poll tax” on minority voters struck down a revised version of the law — delivering yet another blow to GOP leaders in the state. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton slammed the ruling as “outrageous” and vowed to appeal. (AP)
  6. James Comey has taken a lecture post at Howard University. The ousted FBI director will hold a one-year position at the university and deliver five public policy lectures. He is also slated to be the keynote speaker at a convocation ceremony for incoming students in September. (Politico)
  7. A U.S. postal worker was convicted of fraud this week after she faked cancer — and used her contrived illness to take two years of paid sick leave. As part of her punishment, a judge sentenced her to serve 652 hours of community service at a cancer treatment or hospice center — the exact number of hours she had falsified. (Alex Horton)
  8. Luxury fashion brands are distancing themselves from Louise Linton after her viral postings on Instagram. Two of the designers tagged in Linton’s Instagram post, Valentino and Tom Ford, denied any ties to the treasury secretary’s wife. (Page Six)
  9. A single lottery ticket with all six winning Powerball numbers was purchased in Massachusetts. The jackpot of $758.7 million was the second-largest grand prize in U.S. history. (Travis M. Andrews)


— Advocates for Latinos and others who protested Trump’s rally in Phoenix Tuesday night returned to the venue Wednesday morning to decry the president’s suggestion he was prepared to pardon convicted Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. (John Wagner)

— Arpaio told the Fox Business Network that he did not attend the rally because, “I didn’t want to be the cause of any demonstrations, riots and that type of thing.”

— “If [Arpaio] is pardoned in coming days … the move will be the latest in a long line of hotly debated political pardons that critics say violate the spirit but not the laws of executive authority,” Devlin Barrett reports: “For most applicants, seeking a pardon is a long, arduous process that begins with the pardon attorney at Justice Department headquarters …The department recommends anyone seeking pardons wait at least five years after conviction, and be able to demonstrate their remorse … Arpaio, 85, has done none of that, and it’s unlikely he will. If pardoned … [he] will be one of the rare but not unprecedented instances when a president decides to short-circuit ongoing or expected legal proceedings and preemptively grant a reprieve.

“[Former White House counsel Robert Bauer] said an Arpaio pardon would ignore criteria long used to evaluate potential pardons — that a presidential act of mercy should correct some past injustice or oversight, or serve some greater public good. Granting a pardon now, Bauer said, ‘is a de facto interference in the administration of justice.’”

— The paperwork to pardon Arpaio has already reportedly been prepared by the White House. CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reports: “An administration official said the White House has also prepared talking points to send to surrogates after he is pardoned. One of the talking points is that Arpaio served his country for 50 years in the military, the Drug Enforcement Administration and as Arizona’s Maricopa County sheriff, and that it is not appropriate to send him to prison for ‘enforcing the law’ and ‘working to keep people safe.’”

— “Though No Longer Sheriff, Joe Arpaio Is Still a Polarizing Figure,” by the New York Times’s Simon Romero: “Mr. Trump’s expression of support for Mr. Arpaio … has ignited a debate across Arizona about the tactics used to crack down on Latinos, the reactions the strategy spawned in fueling the repudiation by voters who ousted Mr. Arpaio, and the nationalist sentiment stoked by Mr. Trump[.] … Detested by some, loved by others and facing up to six months in jail[,] … Mr. Arpaio finds himself thrust back into the political fray at a time when he could quietly be in the twilight of his career.”

— Trump once again threatened to kill NAFTA in his speech, but Mexico and Canada were unfazed. Politico’s Megan Cassella reports: “Canada and Mexico appear to have reached a conclusion that when President Donald Trump threatens to withdraw from NAFTA, it is a negotiating ploy that is all bark and no bite. … Both Ottawa and Mexico City downplayed Trump’s latest comments as fairly standard procedure during sensitive trade negotiations.”

— Although Trump talked up the merits of “clean coal” in Phoenix, it’s unclear that he actually understands the basics of the concept. (Dino Grandoni)

— Ben Carson’s appearance at the rally may have violated federal law. Philip Bump writes: “Right before Ben Carson took the stage at President Trump’s rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night, the announcer introduced him. ‘The secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson,’ the voice intoned, prompting cheers from the audience. And, as simply as that, a law was likely broken. … Among the prohibitions included in the Hatch Act is one prohibiting Cabinet secretaries from leveraging their positions for a political cause. That means that the head of, say, the Department of Housing and Urban Development can’t appear at a campaign rally in a way that implies he’s doing so in an official capacity. Say, by being introduced with his official title.”

  • A HUD spokesman denied any wrongdoing in a statement: “His travel and lodging were not paid for by the department. He was there in his personal capacity. He didn’t discuss HUD during the speech.” (AP)

— Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker admonished his staff for their coverage of Trump’s Phoenix rally, describing their reporting as “overly opinionated” in several blunt late-night emails. The New York Times’s Michael M. Grynbaum reports: “’Sorry. This is commentary dressed up as news reporting,’ Mr. Baker wrote at 12:01 a.m. … in response to a draft of the rally article that was intended for the newspaper’s final edition. He added in a follow-up, ‘Could we please just stick to reporting what he said rather than packaging it in exegesis and selective criticism? … Baker has faced unease and frustration in his newsroom over his stewardship of the newspaper’s coverage of [Trump], which some journalists there say has lacked toughness and verve.


— The African American man standing behind Trump at Monday’s rally describes himself as “Michael the Black Man.” And he has appeared behind the president at a number of other rallies, despite his checkered past. Katie Mettler and Lindsey Bever report: “The radical fringe activist from Miami once belonged to a violent black supremacist religious cult, and he runs a handful of amateur, unintelligible conspiracy websites. He has called Barack Obama ‘The Beast’ and Hillary Clinton a Ku Klux Klan member. Oprah Winfrey, he says, is the devil. Most curiously, in the 1990s, he was charged, then acquitted, with conspiracy to commit two murders … Michael told a Chicago radio station Wednesday that he was the sixth person in line for the Phoenix rally and said he put himself directly behind the president’s podium. ‘They have seen me a lot of times,’ [he said] … ‘So when I went in, I just walked up there.’ It’s unclear whether the White House or Trump’s campaign officials are aware of [his] turbulent history or extreme political views.”


— Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam — the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in this fall’s contest — is now enmeshed in the post-Charlottesville controversy, with the state GOP saying Northam turned his back on his slave-owning ancestors by calling for the removal of Confederate monuments. Laura Vozzella and Fenit Nirappil report: “The accusation drew swift condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans, who said it amounted to calling Northam a ‘race traitor.’ In a two-part tweet on its official account posted shortly after noon, the state party took aim at Northam … whose great-great-grandfather owned [slaves] …” “[Northam] has turned his back on his own family’s heritage in demanding monument removal,” the two-part tweet read. “Shows @RalphNortham will do anything or say anything to try and be #VAGov — #Pathetic …” In response, Northam tweeted: “I feel fine about turning my back on white supremacy. How does @EdWGillespie feel about the president’s position?”

— Charlottesville is hosting a “community recovery town hall” tonight to provide “recovery updates.” Those efforts have included shrouding two Confederate statues in black yesterday. (AP)

— After Maryland’s Senate president defended Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who penned the Dred Scott decision, one of his Senate colleagues now wants him censured. (Ovetta Wiggins)

— Christopher Cantwell, the white nationalist prominently featured in Vice’s coverage of Charlottesville, turned himself over to authorities in Virginia. An arrest warrant had been issued for Cantwell on charges including two counts of illegal use of tear gas. (The New York Times’s Matt Stevens and Frances Robles)

— Trump’s science envoy to the State Department quit Wednesday, penning a scathing letter of resignation blasting the president’s Charlottesville response and subtly spelling out the word “I-M-P-E-A-C-H.” Amy B Wang reports: “In a resignation letter posted to Twitter, [Daniel] Kammen wrote that Trump’s remarks about the racial violence in Virginia had attacked ‘core values of the United States’ and that it would have ‘domestic and international ramifications.’ ‘Acts and words matter,’ Kammen wrote. ‘To continue in my role under your administration would be inconsistent with the principles of the United States Oath of Allegiance to which I adhere.’ However, his most biting message may have come in the form of a hidden acrostic: The first letter of each paragraph spelled out I-M-P-E-A-C-H.”

— A United Nations panel condemned Trump’s handling of Charlottesville on Wednesday. The New York Times’s Sewell Chan and Nick Cumming-Bruce report: “Without mentioning Mr. Trump by name, a body of United Nations experts on Wednesday denounced ‘the failure at the highest political level of the United States of America to unequivocally reject and condemn’ racist violence, saying it was ‘deeply concerned by the example this failure could set for the rest of the world.’ ‘We were shocked and horrified by what happened,” the committee’s chairwoman, Anastasia Crickley, said in an interview … ‘I was horrified as well by the way leaders of that movement were able to state afterwards that they felt secure in their support.’”

— U.S. rabbis said that they are forgoing an annual high holidays call with the president over his response to Charlottesville. Colby Itkowitz reports: “’The president’s words have given succor to those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia,’ they wrote. ‘Responsibility for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, including the death of Heather Heyer, does not lie with many sides but with one side: the Nazis, alt-right and white supremacists who brought their hate to a peaceful community. They must be roundly condemned at all levels.’”

— U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman also criticized Trump’s response to the violence in a television interview Wednesday. Haaretz reports: “Asked by a Channel 10 TV reporter about if Trump’s response to events following a white supremacist rally was ‘fine,’ Friedman said, ‘I think that it was not fine,’ and added he would rather not comment any further on the matter.”


— Trump on Wednesday called for unity at the national convention of the American Legion in Nevada, appealing to the country’s “shared humanity” just hours after his raucous rally in Arizona. Abby Phillip reports: “’It is time to heal the wounds that have divided us, and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us,’ Trump said … ‘We are one people, with one home and one flag.’ ‘We are not defined by the color of our skin, the figure on our paycheck or the party of our politics,’ Trump continued. … [In Reno], Trump appeared to stick to his carefully crafted script, focusing on his administration’s efforts to improve services for veterans, a key focus on the nation’s largest veterans organization.”

“But Trump’s response to [Charlottesville] hung over his appearance here before a group of veterans that included some who fought against Nazism and fascism in World War II. The day before Trump’s appearance, the Legion voted to reaffirm a nearly 100-year-old resolution condemning hate groups.” 

— “In the span of 48 hours this week, [Trump] has boomeranged among three roles, the commander in chief, the divider and the uniter,” Philip Rucker writes. “Like a contestant on one of his reality TV shows, Trump has taken on contrasting personas, showcasing divergent traits with flourishes seemingly to survive another day of his beleaguered presidency. Or, as Trump the television producer might put it, to keep up the ratings. … The whiplash from the three consecutive Trump speeches exemplifies the confusion and chaos that have come to define his presidency. Is Trump trying to heal the wounds of a country torn over this month’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville? Or is he trying to pull it further apart? Again and again, the pattern has been the same. The moments when Trump stays on message … almost inherently serve as a precursor for meltdowns … In some ways, the Phoenix rally was an encore of his Trump Tower performance the previous Tuesday, a showcase of the core Trump — impassioned and indignant at the seven-month mark of his presidency.”

— “[S]uch contrasts have become a recurring motif of his presidency,” writes the New York Times’s Mark Landler. “Mr. Trump has toggled between Teleprompter Trump and Unplugged Trump every day since the deadly clashes in Virginia, leaving Washington and the rest of the nation with a chronic case of rhetorical whiplash. … There were many reasons to believe that the president’s angry performance in Phoenix was the real Donald J. Trump … While reporters declared his rally one of his most caustic in the past two years, some White House aides said privately on Wednesday that they found some comfort in the fact that it could have been worse.”


— Congressional investigators have unearthed an email written last summer by the now-deputy White House chief of staff relating to a previously unreported effort to arrange a meeting last year between Trump campaign officials and Vladimir Putin. CNN’s Manu Raju and Marshall Cohen report: “The aide, Rick Dearborn … sent a brief email to campaign officials last year relaying information about an individual who was seeking to connect top Trump officials with Putin … The person was only identified in the email as being from ‘WV,’ which one source said was a reference to West Virginia. It’s unclear who the individual is, what he or she was seeking, or whether Dearborn even acted on the request … [but] its existence suggests Russians may have been looking for another entry point into the Trump campaign … Dearborn’s name has not been mentioned much as part of the Russia probe. But he served as then-Sen. Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, as well as a top policy aide on the campaign.”

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