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POLITICO Playbook: W.H.’s new strategy: Humanitarian and security ‘crisis’ at the border

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President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after a meeting with Congressional leaders about ending the partial government shutdown on Jan. 4. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

DRIVING THE DAY

SHUTDOWN … DAY 18 … THE WHITE HOUSE is trying a new strategy — tactically and rhetorically — as this government shutdown barrels on without any sign of ending.

THE WHITE HOUSE is increasingly positioning the situation at the southern border as a global humanitarian crisis of epic proportions, for which the same old solutions will not be sufficient. Sure, they’re still talking about the wall — on which they are demanding Congress spend $ 5.7 billion — but this new line of thinking is taking increased prominence. Expect to hear it tonight from PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP during his address to the nation.

THE ADMINISTRATION is trying to shove off the politics of the wall, and turn the focus to what they consider the humanitarian impact. BASICALLY, the administration is trying to move the narrative away from politics and to national security, even though this issue has been — and continues to be — part and parcel to Trump’s political rallying cry.

VP MIKE PENCE SAID IT plainly: “Our position is very simply this: There is a humanitarian and national security crisis at the southern border.” The VP is going on morning shows with network White House correspondents. He’ll be on NBC’s “Today” show with Hallie Jackson, ABC’s “Good Morning America” with Jon Karl and “CBS This Morning” with Major Garrett this morning.

THE TOUGH QUESTION: Even if everyone accepts the base case that this is a humanitarian crisis, Republicans say there is no answer that does not include a wall, and Democrats — generally speaking, at the moment — say there is no answer that does include a wall.

SPEECH PREVIEW … PENCE ON TRUMP’S MESSAGE: “What we would welcome — and I think the president is going to take the message to the nation tomorrow — is that Republicans and Democrats would come together around the recognition of a humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border and the need to take action.”

HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY KIRSTJEN NIELSEN said it this way: There is a “real sense of urgency, the crisis is getting worse. The issue is that the status quo funding, the status quo laws are not able to address the crisis that we’re seeing at the borders. … It is a security and a humanitarian crisis.”

INCREASINGLY, THE WHITE HOUSE seems to be looking into building the wall without Congress — declaring it a national emergency, and doing it under what’s called “section 2808,” which allows military construction without congressional approval. Democrats have indicated this would be caught up in legal challenges.

— BOB COSTA and PHIL RUCKER lay their thinking out in the Post: “Vexed by Democrats’ refusal to yield to his demand for $ 5.7 billion for wall funding, Trump increasingly views a national emergency declaration as a viable, if risky, way for him to build a portion of his long-promised barrier, according to senior administration officials.” WaPo

ANOTHER OPTION … IF DEMOCRATS somehow accede to a physical barrier of any kind at some point, the VP discussed the White House supporting an emergency supplemental spending bill. This would allow the wall to be built outside the current spending caps.

THE SCENE … PENCE hosted reporters in his ceremonial office Monday afternoon in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. As he noted, this was the same room he hosted senior congressional aides over the weekend. Pence sat with acting OMB DIRECTOR RUSS VOUGHT — his former congressional aide — NIELSEN and JARED KUSHNER. Vought, Nielsen and Pence spoke, and Kushner listened, periodically whispering in the VP’s ear.

PENCE AND NIELSEN said the word “crisis” 36 times during the question-and-answer session with reporters Monday.

PENCE ALL BUT conceded that negotiations between the Hill and the White House were at an impasse of sorts: “We think it was a productive session on both days. … That does not mean to imply that we made progress in negotiations, but I think we gained a better understanding of the issues, the crisis on our southern border and a better understanding of the priorities on both sides of the aisle to address that crisis.”

THERE IS A GROWING FEAR that Republicans will begin getting frustrated with the White House’s position, and will vote with Democrats to open government. Pence said the administration is in touch with Republicans, and he’ll be on the Hill briefing people today.

— JOHN BRESNAHAN and SARAH FERRIS: “House GOP leaders fear support eroding for Trump’s shutdown fight”: “Several dozen House Republicans may cross the aisle this week to vote for Democratic bills to reopen shuttered parts of the federal government, spurring the White House into a dramatic effort to stem potential GOP defections.

“White House officials and Republican congressional leaders worry that GOP support for the shutdown is eroding, weakening President Donald Trump’s hand as he seeks billions of dollars for a border wall that Democrats have vowed to oppose, according to GOP lawmakers and aides.” POLITICO

Good Tuesday morning. THE IMPACT … VOUGHT, the acting OMB director, told us that the government will pay tax refunds. “I know you all have questions on tax refunds. Tax refunds will go out,” he said. He also said flood insurance is on track, the Park Service will have trash pickup and fish and wildlife refuges will be kept open. More from the WSJ on the tax refund change

— IN THE AIR … “Air travelers start to feel effects of government shutdown,” by AP’s David Koenig: “Over the weekend, some airports had long lines at checkpoints, apparently caused by a rising number of security officers calling in sick while they are not getting paid. Safety inspectors aren’t even on the job. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said Monday that inspectors are being called back to work on a case-by-case basis, with a priority put on inspecting airline fleets.” AP

— “Newest shutdown casualty: Trump’s own policies,” by Eric Wolff and Brianna Ehley: “The government shutdown is threatening important pieces of President Donald Trump’s agenda, escalating the political stakes as he and Congress vie to see who blinks first.

“At EPA and the Interior Department, furloughs have frozen efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations and open new water to oil and gas drilling. The White House has sent home key staff coordinating its response to the opioid crisis. And if the partial shutdown drags on long enough, it could force Trump to cancel a late-January trip to Davos, Switzerland, and delay congressional action on the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal.” POLITICO

A message from Better Medicare Alliance:

Without action from Congress, 21 million seniors and individuals with disabilities will take a hit. The 2020 Health Insurance Tax (HIT) would raise premiums or reduce benefits for seniors and low-income beneficiaries on Medicare Advantage. Congress, don’t let our seniors down. Delay the 2020 HIT now. Learn More.

WHERE THE PRESIDENT IS … ELIANA JOHNSON, “Trump wages intense but lonely campaign for his border wall”: “Fighting a virtual one-man messaging battle for his border wall, President Donald Trump is growing frustrated that he doesn’t have more public defenders in his shutdown fight with Congressional Democrats.

“Even by the standards of a president who prefers to deliver his own message rather than outsource it to surrogates, Trump is putting an unusually personal stamp on the White House’s public relations campaign to win more than $ 5 billion in border wall funding. …

“[A] president who demands constant praise has a diminishing number of public defenders these days. The result is a manic, one-man public-relations effort to sell the shutdown that has left some White House officials scrambling to catch up. Trump has griped to associates that hasn’t seen enough administration officials on the airwaves defending him during the shutdown fight, according to three people close to the president. He is also angry that he didn’t get more backup for his mid-December decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.” POLITICO

FACT CHECK … “Only six immigrants in terrorism database stopped by CBP at southern border in first half of 2018,” by NBC’s Julia Ainsley

TRUMP TO MCALLEN … THE MCALLEN MONITOR’S LORENZO ZAZUETA-CASTRO and MITCHELL FERMAN: “President Trump is scheduled to visit McAllen on Thursday to address what he called the crisis at the southern border, which comes amid attempts to persuade the nation of the need for a border wall, the sticking point in negotiations with congressional Democrats that led to a government shutdown.

“The logistics of Trump’s trip were unclear, but he plans to land in McAllen on Thursday, according to three people familiar with the visit. After the White House announced Monday that Trump will travel to the southwest border this week and a Federal Aviation Administration notice indicated a high-profile visitor will be in South Texas, speculation centered on McAllen.” McAllen Monitor

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI and SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER put out a statement that they want to have time to respond to TRUMP’S address.

NEWS ON THE POLITICO HOMEFRONT via CNN’s “Reliable Sources”: “Oliver Darcy emails: Politico’s Robert Allbritton is looking to move beyond politics. Last month, Allbritton told Vanity Fair that he was looking at ‘considering the prospect of new publications outside of Politico’s traditional wheelhouse.” On Monday, a spokesperson told me Allbritton had hired Politico and McClatchy alum Tim Grieve.

“Grieve, who was the founding editor of Politico Pro, has been hired by Allbritton to head a brand new media company. The company will be separate from Politico and focused on something ‘beyond the realm of politics,’ the spokesperson told me, adding, ‘Stay tuned!’” CNN

BURGESS EVERETT and JAMES ARKIN: “Romney gets chilly reception from GOP senators after Trump attack”: “Sen. James Lankford will occasionally take issue with President Donald Trump’s tactics and rhetoric. But he’s not sure what Mitt Romney was thinking with his biting condemnation of the president before he was even sworn into office.

“‘It kind of felt like the same thing Trump does to everybody, Romney does to Trump. Smack you, and then want to negotiate,’ said Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma. ‘It is funny to me that while he was complaining about President Trump’s personal attacks, he was personally attacking President Trump. I don’t know if he sees the irony in it.’ …

“‘Focusing on our political opponents that are trying to annihilate us and embarrass the president is probably a more productive focus, rather than just criticize what the president is, how he does things,’ said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the former whip who is running for reelection as a Trump ally.” POLITICO

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION … “Trump struggles to replace Mattis as Pentagon chief,” by Eliana Johnson and Daniel Lippman: “Jon Kyl, the retired Arizona Republican senator, became the second person to wave off Trump’s overtures last week, telling the White House he is not interested in the job. Ret. Gen. Jack Keane also turned down the job shortly after Mattis’ resignation. …

“The refusals are particularly striking given that the top Pentagon job is historically among the Cabinet’s most prestigious and powerful, and coveted by national security veterans.” POLITICO

KEEPING HIS OPTIONS OPEN! — “Mick Mulvaney is interested in becoming USC president, sources say,” by the Post and Courier’s Andy Shain: “Mick Mulvaney, the former South Carolina congressman who is the acting White House chief of staff, has inquired about becoming president at the University of South Carolina, a state lawmaker and two sources with knowledge told The Post and Courier on Monday.

“News of Mulvaney’s interest … comes as Harris Pastides winds down his 11th and final year the state’s flagship university. Pastides leaves in July, and a search committee is expected to start accepting applications this month. Mulvaney reached out to state leaders about a month ago before he was named Donald Trump’s acting chief of staff, said state Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Columbia, as well as two sources who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the talks.” Post and Courier

2020 WATCH …

— “Biden uses midterms haul to bolster his 2020 chances,” by Maggie Severns and Chris Cadelago: “Former Vice President Joe Biden raised more money for a PAC that supports Democrats in 2018 than any of his likely White House competitors did. But unlike many of them, he spent the lion’s share of that haul on himself.

“Biden’s PAC gave Democratic candidates just a quarter of the more than $ 2 million he raised and spent during the midterms. At the same time, he spent half a million dollars on websites and digital ads that could help him bolster his online presence and raise money from small donors for a 2020 primary campaign, and more of his PAC funds went to travel and other expenses.” POLITICO

— WSJ’S REID EPSTEIN and KEN THOMAS: “Democrat Beto O’Rourke Plans Solo Road Trip to Meet Voters Outside Texas”: “O’Rourke is asking aides to create an itinerary for him to take a solo road trip outside of Texas where he would ‘pop into places’ such as community college campuses, as he considers whether to enter the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, according to a person familiar with the plans.

“Mr. O’Rourke’s trip would begin from his El Paso home and keep him away from Iowa and other early-voting states. Mr. O’Rourke doesn’t plan to be accompanied by staff or press, though he may document the trip on social media and allow people he meets to do so as well. He doesn’t plan to make a final decision on a presidential bid until at least February.” WSJ

– CHRIS CADELAGO, “Kamala Harris readies her 2020 rollout”: “Harris will hit the morning news show circuit Tuesday with appearances on ‘Good Morning America’ and ‘The View,’ in addition to a National Public Radio interview.

“She’ll promote her book Wednesday at a Washington event, and then make a stop Thursday at ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.’ After Washington, Harris’ book tour will take her to the Kaufmann Concert Hall in New York on Friday, then San Francisco before two stops in Los Angeles concluding Jan. 13.” POLITICO

A message from Better Medicare Alliance:

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21 million seniors will face higher premiums if the 2020 Health Insurance Tax (HIT) is not delayed. Congress, delay the 2020 health insurance tax now. Learn More.

THE JUICE …

— FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: GEOFF BURR, who has served as the Transportation Department chief of staff since 2017, is leaving for the private sector. He is expected to make an announcement next week on his next move.

Burr worked for Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao first in the George W. Bush administration, when she was secretary of Labor. He also served as her Senate “sherpa” during her latest confirmation process. TODD INMAN, current DOT deputy chief of staff, is expected to replace Burr.

TRUMP’S TUESDAY — The president will give an “address to the nation” at 9 p.m. from the Oval Office.

PLAYBOOK READS

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

PHOTO DU JOUR: California Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday after he was sworn in as the 40th governor of California. | Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo

THE INVESTIGATIONS — “A Judge Told The Defense In The Russian Troll Farm Case To ‘Knock It Off’ With Attacks On Mueller’s Office,” by BuzzFeed’s Zoe Tillman: “Since prosecutors filed charges of election interference in February, the lead attorney for defendant Concord Management and Consulting, Eric Dubelier, has used strong, and at times pop culture–laden, language in his pleadings. The rebuke from U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich came three days after Dubelier filed court papers that questioned the trustworthiness of Mueller’s office.

“Dubelier compared the government’s arguments to a line from the movie Animal House: ‘Flounder, you can’t spend your whole life worrying about your mistakes! You f**ked up … you trusted us. Hey, make the best of it.’ Friedrich, who set Monday’s hearing roughly two hours after Concord’s latest filing appeared on the docket Friday, was not amused. Concord’s recent filings were ‘unprofessional, inappropriate, and ineffective,’ Friedrich told Dubelier, and the defense’s ‘relentless personal attacks’ on the special counsel’s office and others involved in the case would not play a role in her decision. ‘It’s undermining your credibility in this courthouse,’ Friedrich said.” BuzzFeed

— DARREN SAMUELSOHN and RACHAEL BADE: “DOJ delaying Whitaker testimony before House”: “The Justice Department is trying to delay acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker from delivering testimony to the new Democratic-led House until next month, potentially pushing his high-profile appearance until after a permanent replacement has already been confirmed, according to two sources familiar with the situation.” POLITICO

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ON THE WORLD STAGE — “Pompeo, in Cairo speech, to rebuke Obama’s Mideast vision,” by Nahal Toosi: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading out on what may prove his toughest trip yet, a weeklong swing through the Middle East in which he will give a major speech about America’s role in the region and privately reassure Arab allies that the U.S. remains committed to them.

“In his speech, to be given in Cairo, Pompeo plans to repudiate the Middle East vision of former President Barack Obama, who famously delivered an address to the broader Muslim world while in Egypt in 2009. Pompeo will slam Obama’s engagement with Iran, sources told POLITICO, while asserting that President Donald Trump has the region’s best interests at heart.” POLITICO

— REUTERS: “North Korea’s Kim in China after warning of alternate path to Trump talks,” by Se Young Lee and Christian Shepherd in Beijing: “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is visiting China at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, only days after warning he may take an alternative path if the United States does not ease sanctions and pressure on his country.” Reuters

HAPPENING TONIGHT — Per Florida Playbook’s Marc Caputo and Matt Dixon: “To celebrate Rick Scott officially becoming Florida’s junior U.S. Senator, his New Republican PAC is throwing a ‘black tie optional’ Sunshine Ball in D.C. tonight at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue. A few Scott critics (including a Republican) flagged the event to us as an example of the gov-turned-senator entering his new job on a tone-deaf note in the capital amid a federal government shutdown.

“While many federal workers go without pay, special interests can pony up $ 100,000 for a ‘Platinum’ sponsorship (includes VIP reception, photo op, VIP ball section access, special recognition), etc.” The invite

PLAYBOOKERS

SPOTTED at Cafe Milano last night: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Dina Powell and Eli Miller having dinner together.

TRANSITION — Ryan Williams is now EVP of public affairs at Targeted Victory. He most recently was SVP at FP1 Strategies and is a Romney alum.

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance. A trend he thinks deserves more attention: “People don’t understand the extent to which tech policy is being determined overseas. Between Europe’s actions on privacy and copyright to China’s example of a state-determined internet, the future of our connected world is slowly being decided without U.S. participation. Eventually, we will wake-up and say ‘hey, we need some common rules’ but it will probably be too late.” Playbook Plus Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: Joyce Overboe (hat tips: Anna, Leah, John and Rachel) … Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is 61 … Heather Podesta … John Podesta is 7-0 (h/ts Amy Weiss and Allison Preiss) … Anita Dunn, managing director at SKDKnickerbocker (h/ts Hilary Rosen and Kelley McCormick) … Sander Vanocur is 91 … Charles Osgood is 86 … Jeannie Kedas, chief comms officer at First Look Media (h/t Jon Haber) … POLITICO’s Nirvi Shah … WSJ alum Elizabeth Holmes … Ted Leonsis is 62 … Avra Siegel … Kim Jong Un is 36 … Israel Hernandez … David P. White is 47 (h/t wife Kimball Stroud) … Adam Hechavarria … Buckley Carlson … Maria Pena … former Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) is 43 … former Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) is 67 … Dina Fraioli … Jason Mehta is 36 … Ross Schneiderman is 36 … former Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) is 91 … former Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) is 58 … Caitlin Oakley, national spokesperson and senior adviser at HHS (h/t Charmaine Yoest) …

… Andrew Bates, comms director for House campaigns at American Bridge, is 32 (h/t Megan Apper) … FIU’s Brian Van Hook is 41 … James Reed … Kathryn Grant … Chris Tanner … Angelo Mathay … Rob Melick … Sally Smith … Chip Giller, founder of Grist … Scott Fairchild … Jane Lucas … James Quinn … Kevin Ryan is 52 … Emma Brown … former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft is 77 … Snapchat’s Russ Caditz-Peck … Amanda McTyre … R Street’s Andy Smarick (h/t Alice Lloyd) … Gul Jammas Hussain … Jake Bailey … Nicole Tieman … Deborah Weigel … Dena Horton … Michael Calvert … Sarah Wright … Laura Pinsky … Mary Jane Volk … Micah Honeycutt (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)

A message from Better Medicare Alliance:

21 million beneficiaries receive quality, affordable health coverage from Medicare Advantage. The 2020 Health Insurance Tax (HIT) will make beneficiaries pay more for their coverage, which they simply cannot afford. For 2019, the tax was delayed, resulting in lower costs for seniors, individuals with disabilities, and low-income Medicare beneficiaries. Without delay of the tax for 2020, these beneficiaries will pay the price. Congress, time is running out. Delay the 2020 health insurance tax now and preserve seniors’ access to Medicare Advantage. Learn More.

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