👋 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/ The government shutdown is causing more economic damage than previously estimated and could push the U.S. economy into a contraction. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett called “the damage” to the economy “a little bit worse” than anticipated, because they miscalculated the rate of damage by failing to account for government contractors. Meanwhile, the White House revised estimates from the Council of Economic Advisers, which shows that the shutdown – now in its 26th day – reduces quarterly economic growth by 0.13 percentage points for every week that it lasts. By comparison, last year’s economic growth for the first quarter totaled 2.2% (New York Times / CNN / NPR)
- A bipartisan group of senators plan to send Trump a letter pressing him to reopen the government in return for their commitment to work with him on a border security package. While more than a dozen senators in both parties are expected to sign on, the key Republicans aren’t signing on. (Politico)
2/ The Trump administration continues to force thousands of federal workers back to work without pay by designating their jobs as essential or exempting them from the furlough. The IRS, for example, will officially be recalling 36,000 workers – more than half the IRS workforce – to process tax returns and refunds despite the shutdown. (CNN)
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association said that flying is “less safe today than it was a month ago” due to the partial government shutdown. The FAA is trying to recall thousands of workers who had been furloughed that they deem essential to deal with safety concerns. (The Hill)
Federal workers lose more than $200 million in combined unpaid wages for every workday the the government remains shutdown. A typical federal worker has missed $5,000 in wages since the shutdown began. (New York Times)
3/ Nancy Pelosi told Trump to reschedule his State of the Union address – or just submit it in writing – while the government remains partially closed. Pelosi cited “security concerns” related to the shutdown’s effect on the Secret Service. White House officials, meanwhile, are urging Republican senators to not sign a bipartisan letter calling for an end of the government shutdown. Trump is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address on Jan. 29th, which is an opportunity for him to make his case for border wall funding in a prime-time televised address. (Politico / ABC News / Washington Post / CNBC)
4/ ISIS claimed responsibility for an explosion that killed at least two U.S. troops in northern Syria. The attack comes weeks after Trump claimed the U.S. had “defeated ISIS in Syria” and announced he would pull out all 2,000 American forces, which triggered the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. An hour after the US-led coalition confirmed that American troops had been killed in an explosion, Pence declared that “the caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated.” He made no mention of the attack and did not offer condolences in his remarks at the Global Chiefs of Mission conference. (Reuters / NBC News / CNN)
5/ Nine T-Mobile executives booked rooms at Trump’s hotel in D.C. a day after the company announced a merger that required Trump’s approval. Staffers at the Trump International Hotel were handed a list of incoming “VIP Arrivals” last April following the announcement of a $26 billion deal with Sprint, which would more than double T-Mobile’s value and significantly increase its share of the cellphone market. T-Mobile executives have repeatedly returned to Trump’s hotel since, with one T-Mobile executive racking up 10 visits to the hotel between April and July. (Washington Post)
6/ The General Services Administration inspector general report said the agency “ignored” concerns that Trump’s lease of the Trump International Hotel violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause when it allowed Trump to keep the lease after he took office. The hotel is housed in the Old Post Office Building – a government-owned building. The report does not recommend that Trump’s lease be canceled. (Washington Post)/ NPR)
poll/ 36% of voters support Trump declaring a national emergency to re-allocate money to pay for his border wall, while 51% oppose an emergency declaration. (Politico)
Trump’s pick to replace Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA will face questions from lawmakers during his confirmation hearing. Andrew Wheeler has been serving as the acting EPA administrator since Pruitt stepped down in July amid numerous ethics investigations. Democrats are expected to ask Wheeler about his connections to coal companies that he represented as a lobbyist, of which Wheeler says he is “not at all ashamed.” (ABC News)
Karen Pence, wife of Mike Pence, started teaching art at a school that discriminates against LGBTQ kids, saying it will refuse admission to students who participate in or condone homosexual activity. The employment application for Immanuel Christian School in Northern Virginia also requires that job candidates sign a pledge not to engage in homosexual activity or violate the “unique roles of male and female.” (HuffPost / Politico)
A Belarusian woman who claimed to have 16 hours of audio recordings linking Russia to Trump’s election will be deported after spending nearly a year behind bars in Thailand. Anastasia Vashukevich pleaded guilty to charges of solicitation and conspiracy in the Pattaya Provincial Court. Vashukevich requested asylum in the U.S. in exchange for her recordings, which she claimed contained evidence that could help shed light on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The audio evidence that Vashukevich claimed to have has never materialized. (New York Times)
Trump called a New York Times reporter and defended Russia against claims of election interference the day after he met privately with Putin in July 2017. Trump insisted that the call remain off the record while arguing that the Russians had been falsely accused of interfering in the 2016 election. Trump and Putin have met five times in private and the U.S. has no records or notes from any of their conversations. (New York Times)
Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to enforce sanctions against Russian companies controlled by a Putin ally, despite a group of 11 GOP senators joining Democrats in the vote. The vote fell three votes shy of the 60-vote threshold, ensuring that the sanctions on the companies tied to Oleg Deripaska, including the world’s second-largest aluminum company, Rusal, will be lifted as part of a deal negotiated by the Treasury Department. (New York Times / CNN / The Hill)
Paul Manafort worked with unknown intermediaries to get people appointed in the Trump administration in January 2017. The former Trump campaign chairman continued speaking with the unidentified group of people through February 2018 – months after Manafort was indicted by Mueller’s prosectors. (Politico)
Konstantin Kilimnik “appears to be at the heart of pieces of Mueller’s investigation” into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Kilimnik is a Russian tied to Moscow’s intelligence services and is connected to Manafort. Prosecutors filed a 31-page affidavit from an FBI agent, and another 406 blacked-out exhibits, after a federal judge ordered them to lay out the “factual and evidentiary basis” for their claims that Manafort repeatedly lied after his plea deal and as a result had breached his cooperation agreement. (CNN / Washington Post)
Rick Gates told Mueller about the Trump campaign’s dealings with Psy Group, which plotted “social media manipulation” during the 2016 campaign. The former Trump campaign aide had requested proposals from Psy Group to help Trump during the campaign, which included creating fake social media accounts to engage voters and Republican campaign delegates. It’s unclear if the campaigns were ever carried out for Trump. (Daily Beast)
The U.S. rejected a Russian offer to save the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, saying “we see no indication that Russia would choose compliance.” The U.S. and its NATO allies want Russia to destroy its 9M729 nuclear-capable cruise missile system. Without a deal, a U.S. withdrawal over six months will start from Feb. 2. (Reuters)
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