👋 Away Message: Hi there! Matt is currently out on parental leave. He'll return August 30th-ish. More details can be found here. In the meantime, Joe (the voice of the newscast/podcast) will be publishing an abridged version of WTF Just Happened Today? every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can expect 5-7 news items covering a slightly wider range of political news in about two sentences each. We'll return to our regularly scheduled WTFJHT programming when Matt returns in late August.
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1/ Trump and congressional leaders failed to resolve the partial government shutdown that’s now stretched into its 13th day. The meeting was billed as a a “border security briefing,” but turned into Trump asking Department of Homeland Security officials to “make a plea” for his $5 billion border wall with Trump rejecting an offer from Democrats to reopen the government, because he “would look foolish if I did that.” Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, reaffirmed her refusal to accommodate Trump’s border wall demand, saying: “How many more times can we say no? Nothing for the wall.” Sen. Lindsay Graham, meanwhile, has been pressuring Trump to hold firm as well. “If he gives in now, that’s the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president,” Graham said. “That’s the probably the end of his presidency.” (The Guardian / New York Times / CNN / NBC News)
Mitch McConnell: The Senate will not consider the House Democrat bills to end the government shutdown if they don’t include Trump’s demand for a $5 billion border wall. “The Senate will not waste its time considering a Democratic bill which cannot pass this chamber and which the president will not sign.” (Reuters)
Trump falsely accused Democrats of shutting down the government in order to take the presidency in 2020. He went on to praise “all of the achievements of ‘Trump.’” (Politico)
Trump put a large “Game of Thrones” poster of himself on the table in front of him during a cabinet meeting with the words “SANCTIONS ARE COMING NOVEMBER 4” across the middle. Nobody in the meeting talked about the poster and the White House did not respond to questions about it. (New York Times / Washington Post)
Trump issued an executive order freezing federal workers’ pay for 2019, after initially announcing a 2.1% across-the-board pay raise that was set to take effect in January. (CNN)
2/ The House of Representatives elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi as speaker for a second time. The 116th Congress convened with Democrats taking control of the House and Republicans maintaining control of the Senate. (Wall Street Journal / New York Times / Washington Post)
- The congressional freshman class of 2019 is the most racially diverse and most female group of representatives ever elected to the House, and includes the first Native American congresswomen, the first Muslim congresswomen, and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. (CNN / New York Times)
3/ Pelosi suggested it’s an “open discussion” whether Trump can be indicted by Robert Mueller while still in office, challenging the Department of Justice’s guidelines that a sitting president cannot be indicted. The incoming speaker also added that “everything indicates” that Trump “can be indicted after he is no longer president of the United States.” Pelosi’s statements make her the highest ranking politician to suggest that Trump can be indicted while still in office. (NBC News / Axios / Politico / USA Today)
- The Incoming House Judiciary Chairman plans to re-introduce legislation to protect Robert Mueller. The legislation would provide recourse for Mueller and future special counsels to challenge any firings in the court system. (CNN)
4/ Democrats plan to ask for 10 years of tax returns for presidential candidates in their first piece of legislation in 2019. Vice presidents would also be required to turn over the last decade of their tax returns. The documents would then be posted on the FEC’s website for the public to view. The legislation, however, is not expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate or signed into law by Trump. (CNN)
5/ Russia charged an American with espionage. Paul Whelan faces 20 years in Russia if convicted. Russia’s Interfax news agency said Whelan was arrested on Dec. 28 “while on a spy mission.” Another Russian news outlet, Rosbalt, claimed that Whelan, a former U.S. marine now detained in Moscow by Russia’s Federal Security Service, was arrested minutes after receiving a USB drive that contained the names of people employed at a top secret state organization. Whelan’s arrest comes weeks after Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as an agent for the Kremlin from 2015 until her arrest in July. She agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors. (The Guardian / Washington Post / New York Times / USA Today / NPR / CNN)
The confirmation of 70 of Trump’s judicial nominees remains in flux after Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer failed to reach an agreement on how to move the nominations forward. The pending nominations will now be sent back to the White House to be re-nominated. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to hold an extra-long session at some point in the next few weeks to consider all the remaining nominees who were awaiting a vote on the Senate floor or waiting for a committee vote. (Politico)
Trump’s Bedminster golf club shielded at least one undocumented immigrant from a list of workers vetted by the Secret Service during the 2016 campaign. Emma Torres told a human resources employee that she did not have legal status. The woman replied: “‘It’s O.K. No problem.’ She scratched me off the list.” Torres later made sandwiches for Secret Service agents when they began visiting the property. (New York Times)
The Trump administration is considering a rollback of anti-discrimination rules. The rollback would dilute federal rules against discrimination in education, housing and more. (Washington Post)
The Justice Department is examining whether Ryan Zinke lied to the Interior agency’s inspector general investigators – a potential criminal violation. (Washington Post)
The national debt is $2 trillion higher since Trump took office. At the end of 2018, the debt stood at $21.974 trillion. (CNN)
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