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By Chuck Todd, Carrie Dann and Ben Kamisar

WASHINGTON — Heading into Trump’s speech last night, we were scratching our heads about what exactly the president would do with the bully pulpit.

Would he announce a national emergency at the border — and simultaneously call for an end to the shutdown — to give himself leverage on the wall? Express support or compassion for federal workers worried about their paychecks? Offer new information or a new pitch to reassure skeptical Republicans that he’s right to stay the course?

Now, nearly 12 hours after the speech, we’re still scratching our heads. After all the political capital the White House invested into requesting a half hour of the broadcast networks’ time, we’re starting today where we were yesterday morning — at an impasse, with both sides dug in, no real new information and no new path out of a shutdown that is now stretching into its 19th day.

In fact, Trump barely mentioned the shutdown at all. With hundreds of thousands of federal workers bracing to miss a paycheck in two days, Trump offered only the vague reassurance that “my administration is doing everything in our power to help those impacted by the situation.” Trump’s most vivid imagery came in the form of a more polished version of his 2018 campaign stump speeches, describing gruesome crimes by undocumented immigrants. But that’s essentially the same argument he’s been making since he launched his presidential run.

So, what was the point? Despite broadcasting to millions nationwide, Trump’s real intended audience seemed to be just a few miles down Pennsylvania Avenue. The test today will be whether congressional Republicans, who have been antsy about being on the losing side of shutdown politics, think the primetime address was enough to revive more public support for the shutdown.

But right now, we don’t see much evidence that they will.

And it made it harder for both sides to get to a deal

Trump’s insistence on the wall and his description of a border in crisis last night also made it harder to get to a shutdown deal sooner. After digging in on primetime TV, what incentive does he have to make any concessions in the short term? After the speech’s rehash of old Trump rhetoric, what incentive do Democrats have? The most definitive thing we learned from last night might be that the shutdown will stretch into next week.

Declaring a state of emergency might have provided a way to break the stalemate, but now we’re wondering if Trump may not have the internal support from Republicans he’d need for it. Don’t miss that Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said yesterday that using military dollars for the wall would be “damaging” to military readiness, adding “In short, I’m opposed to using defense dollars for non-defense purposes.”

Why now, redux?

Yesterday, we asked why the president chose this moment to give a primetime speech on his signature issue, rather than early in his presidency or at least at the start of the shutdown.

It turns out that the president had the same question. As the New York Times reports, citing two people briefed on the discussion, Trump said in an off-the-record lunch with reporters yesterday that he didn’t see the point of the speech or a Thursday visit to the border but was talked into it by his advisers. And it showed, by the way, in his delivery last night.

As the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein wrote , the timing question may come down to one of mismanagement — and perhaps learning the wrong lesson from the 2016 election.

“[T]his is the downside of having an “outsider” president,” he writes. “Trump’s supporters loved that he wasn’t a typical politician, that he came from a business background, and that he shot from the hip. But translating campaign rhetoric into tangible policy success as president takes a lot more organization, competence, and discipline than Trump has demonstrated. So the most likely outcome of the current shutdown fight is that Trump will end up politically damaged, but with nothing to show for it.”

*“Build the Wall” vs. “Read My Lips”

Trump has moved the goalposts on the wall before (Mexico will pay for it! The trade deals will pay for it! Concrete! Steel!) but you can’t say he hasn’t made “Build the wall!” an unshakeable promise to his voters — no matter how politically damaging it may be.

For Trump, it may be a determination to avoid George H.W. Bush’s reversal on his “Read my lips” pledge. (Talk about the perils of an extremely memorable slogan when it runs up against political reality.)

Manafort shared campaign polling data with Russian linked to intelligence sources

With all the attention on yesterday’s primetime address, don’t miss this. “President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared campaign polling data with a Russian associate linked to Russian intelligence services — and then lied about it to federal investigators, according to court papers filed Tuesday.The disclosure was made by Manafort’s lawyers in a poorly redacted section of court papers that were filed to rebut the special counsel’s allegations that he lied to federal investigators. The lawyers revealed that Manafort was not truthful about providing polling data related to the 2016 presidential campaign to Konstantin Kilimnik.”

There’s no indication in the new documents of whether Trump was aware of the exchange or how the Russian involved might have used the data. But if this doesn’t point to some form of coordination with a foreign government during the 2016 campaign, then what does?

Tom Steyer to make announcement of “political plans for 2019 and beyond”

At 4:30pm ET, billionaire Tom Steyer will announce his “political plans” for the future in Iowa. Steyer, of course, spent millions of his own fortune to help Democrats in the midterms, turn out young voters and push his climate change and Trump impeachment messages on TV airwaves.

And/but: Don’t forget that his announcement also comes against the backdrop of this swipe from Elizabeth Warren last week: “No to the billionaires,” she said on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, speaking about the Democratic primary. “No to the billionaires whether they are self-funding or whether they are funding PACs.”

Elizabeth Warren leads DailyKos 2020 straw poll

Speaking of Warren, she’sthe winner of the first Daily Kos straw poll, coming in at 22 percent support. (That’s compared with 15 percent for Beto O’Rourke, 14 percent for Kamala Harris, 14 percent for Joe Biden and 11 percent for Bernie Sanders.) The progressive organization says it’ll repeat the straw poll every two weeks.

Unlike national polls that largely measure name ID this early on, the Daily Kos figures give a snapshot of what already-engaged progressive activists are thinking. What stood out the most to us, though, was the low standing for Bernie Sanders. It’s an alarm bell for his team that he’s struggling with folks who should be his ideological allies.

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Democratic mayor Pete Buttigieg running for president; would be first openly gay nominee



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 / Updated 

By Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is forming an exploratory committee for a 2020 presidential bid, according to a video and email announcement.

“The reality is there’s no going back, and there’s no such thing as ‘again’ in the real world. We can’t look for greatness in the past,” Buttigieg says in a video that includes before-and-after footage of South Bend, a Rust Belt city once described as “dying.”

“Right now our country needs a fresh start,” he says.

If he were to win the Democratic nomination, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay presidential nominee from a major political party.

Buttigieg has touted his work to improve his city of 100,000 residents as he’s prepared for an improbable jump from local politics to a presidential campaign. He’s also said Democrats could benefit from a new generation of leaders as they try to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020.

He’s expected to travel to Iowa next week to meet with voters in the nation’s first caucus state, followed by stops in New Hampshire.

Buttigieg is a Rhodes scholar who was first elected mayor of his hometown in 2011 at age 29 — making him the youngest mayor of a U.S. city with at least 100,000 residents. A lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, he served a tour in Afghanistan in 2014.

Buttigieg raised his national profile with an unsuccessful 2017 run for Democratic National Committee chairman, saying the party needed a new start. He withdrew from the race before a vote when it became clear he didn’t have the support to win.

Buttigieg has spent time in Iowa and other battleground states in recent years as he tried to build financial support and name recognition. He cracks that those who do know his name still aren’t sure how to pronounce it. Most of the time he goes by “Mayor Pete.”

Amid his campaign for a second term, Buttigieg came out as gay in a column in the local newspaper. He went on to win re-election with 80 percent of the vote. In 2018 — three years to the day after the column ran — he married his husband, middle school teacher Chasten Glezman.

Buttigieg announced in December that he wouldn’t seek a third term as mayor, stoking speculation he would join a field of roughly two dozen candidates who may seek the Democratic nomination for president — most of them better-known and with experience in higher office, and all of them older.

“I belong to a generation that is stepping forward right now,” he says in the video released Wednesday. “We’re the generation that lived through school shootings, that served in the wars after 9/11, and we’re the generation that stands to be the first to make less than our parents unless we do something different. We can’t just polish off a system so broken. It is a season for boldness and a focus on the future.”

Buttigieg is releasing a book in February about his life and his tenure leading South Bend.

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Shutdown could further endanger whales



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By Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine — Rescuers who respond to distressed whales and other marine animals say the federal government shutdown is making it more difficult to do their work.

A network of rescue groups in the U.S. works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to respond to marine mammals such as whales and seals when the animals are in trouble, such as when they are stranded on land or entangled in fishing gear. But the federal shutdown, which entered its 33rd day Wednesday, includes a shuttering of the NOAA operations the rescuers rely upon.

NOAA plays a role in preventing accidental whale deaths by doing things like tracking the animals, operating a hotline for mariners who find distressed whales and providing permits that allow the rescue groups to respond to emergencies. Those functions are disrupted or ground to a halt by the shutdown, and that’s bad news if whales need help, said Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium in Boston, which has a rescue operation.

“If it was very prolonged, then it would become problematic to respond to animals that are in the water,” LaCasse said. “And to be able to have a better handle on what is really going on.”

The shutdown is coming at a particularly dangerous time for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, which numbers about 411, said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, a senior biologist with Whale and Dolphin Conservation of Plymouth, Massachusetts. The whales are under tight scrutiny right now because of recent years of high mortality and poor reproduction.

NOAA recently identified an aggregation of 100 of the whales south of Nantucket — nearly a quarter of the world’s population — but the survey work is now interrupted by the shutdown, Asmutis-Silvia said. Surveys of rare whales are important for biologists who study the animals and so rescuers can have an idea of where they are located, she said. No right whale mortalities have been recorded so far in 2019, but there have been at least 20 since April 2017.

“There’s a really significant impact on marine mammal conservation based on this shutdown,” Asmutis-Silvia said. “We have little to no ability to find them because of NOAA’s being furloughed.”

Many in the conservation community are anticipating potential changes to the federal government’s Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, which is a tool to reduce incidental deaths of whales. But that process, too, is on hold because of the shutdown.

Calls from The Associated Press to NOAA spokespeople were not returned. Some spokespeople for the agency have voicemail set up to say they will return to work when the shutdown is over.

Outside of the federal government, work to protect whales is still going on. The developer of an offshore wind energy project off Massachusetts announced Wednesday it is partnering with environmental groups on a plan to try to protect the right whales.

And not all the news about the whales is gloomy. A Florida research team has located the third right whale calf of the season. None were spotted last season.

Scott Landry, director of marine mammal entanglement response for the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts, said that a NOAA whale entanglement hotline is currently being forwarded to him, and that he’s managing to pick up the slack so far. Rescue groups anticipated the shutdown and are working together to make do until it’s over, he said.

In Virginia, one of the state’s first responders for whale rescues is the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach. Mark Swingle, the aquarium’s director of research and conservation, said the center would not have “the usual assets we depend on to support the response” if it needs to assist an endangered whale.

That’s because NOAA staff and the Coast Guard would not be available, Swingle said.

“These circumstances require extremely specialized training and resources and NOAA is the lead organizer of large whale and other disentanglement efforts,” he said. “Live strandings pose their own set of challenges that NOAA helps navigate appropriately.”

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Trump says he will not give State of the Union until government shutdown is over



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By Phil Helsel

President Donald Trump late Wednesday announced he would not hold a State of the Union address until after the partial government shutdown, now in its fifth week, is over.

The announcement made shortly after 11 p.m. seemingly puts to rest a dispute between the president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., over whether the address would be held.

Pelosi said in a letter earlier Wednesday that the Democratic-controlled House “will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the president’s State of the Union address in the House chamber until the government has opened.”

Trump said on Twitter: “As the Shutdown was going on, Nancy Pelosi asked me to give the State of the Union Address. I agreed. She then changed her mind because of the Shutdown, suggesting a later date. This is her prerogative – I will do the Address when the Shutdown is over.”

The president is not allowed to speak in the chamber, the traditional spot for the State of the Union address, unless the House and Senate pass a resolution allowing him to do so.

Pelosi had initially invited Trump to give the speech later this month, but she sent him a letter last week asking him to delay his remarks or submit them in writing. She cited concerns over security because of the partial government shutdown, which affects the Department of Homeland Security.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump said, “The State of the Union speech has been canceled by Nancy Pelosi because she doesn’t want to hear the truth. She doesn’t want the American public to hear what’s going on.”

“Great blotch on the incredible country we that all love. Great, great horrible mark,” Trump said.

Asked if he’d be giving a speech Tuesday night, the president responded that an announcement would be forthcoming soon.

The government has been partially shut down since Dec. 22, in a dispute over Trump’s demand that Congress provide $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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