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An emergency declaration may be the shutdown off-ramp. But what about the consequences?

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By Chuck Todd and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — It’s a strange, upside-down world when much of official Washington is hoping for the president to make a sweeping, legally questionable constitutional power play to get out of a political jam. But that’s where we are on Day 21 of the partial government shutdown, now tied for the longest such funding lapse in modern political history.

With 800,000 federal workers slated to miss a paycheck today, there are no meetings scheduled for negotiations. Efforts for grand bargain legislation have been abandoned. We’re just… stuck. And there’s a grudging acceptance from many lawmakers that the best way out of the impasse is for the president to declare a national emergency and attempt to take unilateral action to construct a border wall while also opening the federal government.

The short-term politics make sense for Trump: The move would surely be caught up in a lengthy court challenge, which would give Trump a new foil and show his base his willingness to fight.

But in the long-term, what does it say about the health of our democracy that lawmakers are hoping to fix a political problem with an executive power grab with major constitutional consequences? Trump’s skeptics are putting a lot of faith in the courts to be a guardrail, but isn’t this the definition of a slippery slope? And of course, it goes without saying that Republicans would be howling at even a hint of a move like this from a Democratic president.

There’s a sense of ominousness about the whole thing, as we certainly took away from Lindsey Graham’s written statement yesterday.

“It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier,” he wrote. “I hope it works.”

If Trump doesn’t declare an emergency, this may be the last day McConnell can sit on the sidelines

Until now, Mitch McConnell has been mostly absent from the shutdown debate. But if Trump declines to declare an emergency and the shutdown drags into next week, McConnell may finally be dragged off the sidelines. Yes, Trump has said he will oppose any legislation to open the government that doesn’t include wall funding, and McConnell is in no mood to be burned like he was when the Senate unanimously passed a short-term funding measure that the White House rejected last month. But nearly a month into the crisis, McConnell may finally have to do something to move the ball if the White House won’t.

And while McConnell may face the most acute pressure, Democrats aren’t off the hook here, either. They think they’re winning this fight now — and they may be — but it’s hard for anyone to look like a winner the longer this mess goes on.

Shutdown costs are mounting

Meanwhile, here’s the latest on the consequences of the shutdown today:

  • At Day 21, we are now tied for the longest shutdown in modern political history. The previous 21-day shutdown stretched from December 16, 1995- to January 6, 1996.
  • 800,000 federal workers are set to miss their first paycheck today, including about 420,000 who are working without pay
  • Aviation industry workers are warning of “eroding” safety, including delays in aircraft inspections
  • HUD funds have been frozen for low-income senior citizens, with staff scrambling to fund affordable housing contracts that have expired during the shutdown
  • Federal cleanups at Superfund sites have been suspended.
  • ICE could run out of money to pay contractors
  • Some farmers in Trump Country are losing patience with the shutdown

Michael Cohen to testify publicly before House Oversight Committee

Back during the 2018 campaign, when we talked about the potential consequences of Democrats taking back the House, this is what we were talking about. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has agreed to testify publicly before the House Oversight Committee on February 7, before he goes to prison, per NBC’s Rebecca Shabad.

The public testimony — which will include questions about Trump’s personal life and business deals — is sure to be blockbuster TV (although limitations on questioning mean that Cohen likely won’t be able to address the Russia investigation.)

But there are risks for Democrats here, too. Cohen is far from the most credible witness, and it’s easy to imagine a situation where the whole spectacle goes off the rails. If it does, it could be an inauspicious start to Democrats’ new investigative role.

Fact checking Trump’s “write out a check” claim

At the White House yesterday, Trump said this of his wall promise: “When during the campaign, I would say Mexico’s going to pay for it. Obviously, I never said this, and I never meant they’re gonna write out a check, I said they’re gonna pay for it.”

But back when his campaign was being pressed for details on how Trump would compel Mexico to pay for a wall, the campaign released a memo to the Washington Post in March 2016 outlining how he’d threaten to cut off the flow of money from Mexican nationals working in the U.S. sending money back home. The document also suggested moves like cancelling visas and enacting new tariffs to pressure the Mexican government into paying.

“It’s an easy decision for Mexico,” the memo read. “Make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year.”

And finally: Tarrant County GOP official survives recall vote over his Muslim faith

Here’s a story we’ve been watching out of Texas. “Shahid Shafi will retain his role as vice-chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party despite a push from a small faction of precinct chairs to remove him from his post because he’s Muslim,” writes the Texas Tribune.

“The formal motion to oust him failed in a 49-139 vote, said county party spokesman Mike Snyder. Those who were in favor of Shafi’s removal said he’s unequipped to be vice-chairman because he doesn’t represent all Tarrant County Republicans due to his religion. They’ve also said Islamic ideologies run counter to the U.S. Constitution — an assertion many Texas GOP officials have called bigoted and Shafi himself has vehemently denied.”



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Italy MEP offers Brexit OLIVE BRANCH and admits Rome TERRIFIED by no-deal

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ITALY eurocrat Paolo De Castro has given Theresa May a glimmer of hope her Withdrawal Agreement can be “improved”, as Italian business leaders admitted fears billions of pounds worth of trade between Rome and London could be at risk by a no-deal Brexit.

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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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Brexit Article 50 news: Will Article 50 be extended?

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BREXIT Article 50 being triggered was the first action the UK took towards withdrawing from the European Union in 2017. Could article 50 be extended?

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