High Expectations, Bitter Politics Ahead Of Trump's First Oval Office Address

President Donald Trump will take his case directly to the American public Tuesday night and deliver a prime-time address on what the White House and others have identified as a "humanitarian and security crisis" at the southern border.

The White House formally requested that the major television networks interrupt their regularly scheduled programming to air his speech from the Oval Office. The big four, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, spent time deliberating and ultimately agreed to broadcast the address. The decision set off a bitter partisan battle over network coverage of the president and has fueled already high expectations forTrump's first formal address from the Oval Office.

Ahead of the 9 p.m. ET speech, critics challenged Trump's underlying claim of an actual crisis at the southern border, undermining the stated purpose of the address. Some argued the president will use his airtime to set the stage for, or actually declare, a national emergency and assert a host of emergency powers.

If Trump is going to move the needle of public opinion in his favor, he will have to expand the debate beyond the confines of a "partisan food fight" and inform a larger conversation about border security, explained Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist and political commentator.

"This is a case where, despite what people think of Donald Trump, he does have the facts on his side," O'Connell said, noting a number of news reports acknowledging a crisis on the southern border. "But he is going to have to make the case to the people who are not necessarily as partisan as the hard Rs and hard Ds. I think that is going to be the key here."

Read more from Leandra Bernstein at WJLA

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Trump To Address Nation On Wall

President Trump will give a prime-time address Tuesday from the Oval Office to make his case for closing parts of the government over his demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall on the Mexican border.

The president also plans to travel to the border on Thursday, a bellicose move reflecting the entrenched positions on both sides of the debate and one that almost certainly means the 18-day shutdown will continue into the weekend.

Negotiations had come to a standstill even before the White House announcements about Trump’s address and border visit.

Democrats insist it is not possible to have substantive talks about Trump’s demands while parts of the government are shut down. The House this week will begin passing individual appropriations bills for the affected agencies as they seek to build pressure on Trump.

“The White House knows the longer they can shine a spotlight on this issue, the better they can make their case,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. 

GOP lawmakers are questioning what the endgame is for Trump. They say he hasn’t been clear enough in setting expectations and that they were caught by surprise when Trump torpedoed Senate legislation preventing the shutdown that Pence signaled Trump would accept. 

“The question for the White House is at what point is the shutdown felt among voters who support Trump? As of right now that doesn’t appear to be the case,” O’Connell added. “You can say it certainly is part of his reelection strategy.” 

Read more from Jordan Fabian and Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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Republicans Push ‘Innovation’ As Climate Change Solution

GOP lawmakers are increasingly turning to a new refrain for their position on climate change, calling for “innovation” as the policy solution.

Many Republicans have seemingly settled on innovation as their primary position to counter progressive Democrats who have grown louder in their calls for a Green New Deal, with its emphasis on renewable electricity, and as the United Nations and federal government issue reports saying time is running out to dramatically cut emissions.

Endorsing innovation has very few obvious political downsides for the GOP. It’s not controversial and helps Republicans paint a contrast with Democratic ideas they argue are controversial and expensive.

But critics say Republicans are being disingenuous and using innovation to mask their opposition to more aggressive climate change policies. Those critics say innovation alone isn’t sufficient to cut greenhouse gas emissions to the level that scientists say is necessary.

“What you’re hearing from Republicans is an acknowledgement that pollution and human activity have a negative effect on the environment. But they don’t want to get backed into a corner on specifics,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “They recognize their electorate are concerned about it, but the Democrats have not presented a realistic solution that does not hurt jobs and economic growth.”

The GOP sees climate change as a niche issue, O’Connell said, so any policy they support only needs to please a small portion of voters.

Read more from Timothy Cama at The Hill

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Trump, GOP Seek To Shift Blame For Shutdown To Pelosi

White House officials and congressional Republicans are seeking to blame the partial government shutdown on Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as the standoff over funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border appears likely to extend into the new year.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in an interview Friday said Pelosi can’t move on the wall because of the Jan. 3 floor vote for House Speaker, repeating an argument first made by President Trump in an Oval Office meeting with Democrats.

The White House is also seeking to portray a split between Pelosi and Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who leads Democrats in the Senate.

GOP strategists say there is value in the White House trying to exploit potential divisions in the House Democratic Caucus that could cause issues for Pelosi and Schumer.

“What Trump is ultimately trying to do is paint the narrative that in leadership Pelosi will have to fight her own Democratic House caucus more than Republicans,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “In other words, the chaos in government is being spearheaded by Democrats not Trump.”

Early in the process of negotiating border security funding, Schumer and Pelosi were in somewhat different places. Schumer had floated advancing a Senate-committee passed bill that included $1.6 billion for fencing, while Pelosi said that plan was unacceptable. 

Read more from Naomi Jagoda at The Hill

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Lindsey Graham And Rand Paul — End Times Allies

Congressional Republicans will defer to President Trump on many things, but on foreign policy, they are more willing to assert themselves. That’s been clear in the aftermath of Trump’s announced withdrawal from Syria and the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. But a more subtle sign of the president’s loose grip on lawmakers was the emergence of an unlikely alliance against him that has been described by one of its participants as a sign of the “end times.”

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., represent opposite poles of the GOP foreign-policy spectrum. Graham is hawkish, insisting that if we do not fight America’s enemies “over there,” we will instead face them “over here.” Paul is a skeptic of military intervention, especially in the Middle East, who argues the U.S. is fighting too many wars with too little congressional authorization.

On Saudi Arabia, the two of them are united: They want to punish Riyadh for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and are exasperated by the president’s unwillingness to confront Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Trump wants to continue to have a close relationship with the Saudi regime, which he views as an important counterweight to Iranian influence in the region.

Despite their ideological differences, Graham and Paul generally have taken a similar approach to dealing with Trump. They were very anti-Trump when they ran against him for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Paul called Trump an “orange-faced windbag” while Graham dubbed the businessman and reality TV star a “jackass” and a “kook.”

Trump repaid in kind. “He gave out one guy’s phone number and called the other guy a midget,” recalled Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “If we nominate Trump,” Graham predicted during the campaign, “we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.”

“You’ve got to understand how Paul and Graham went from Never Trumpers to people who have cracked the Trump matrix and have his ear,” said O’Connell. “When you disagree with a Trump position outside of your core issues, rather than running to CNN or MSNBC or to the first available mic to share your disgust, you keep your mouth shut, period. And when you agree with a Trump position outside of your core issues, you cheer on his position louder than he does and you sprint to a Trump-friendly media outlet and ring a cowbell as loud as you can.”

That’s how the two senators became frequent golfing buddies with the president despite frequently disagreeing with him.

Read more from W. James Antle III at the Washington Examiner

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Trump's Pen And Phone

As President Trump’s shutdown gamble appears unlikely to secure funding for his border wall, and as Democrats are poised to take control of the House, allies of the president say he may have to act alone.

Read more from Melissa Quinn at the Washington Examiner

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Government Shutdown On As Trump, Democrats Clash Over Border Wall Spending

House lawmakers left Capitol Hill Friday night without passing a budget agreement, ensuring a government shutdown as President Trump dug into a standoff with Democrats to secure funding for a border wall.

The president demanded billions of dollars for his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall, a fight that serves as an early look into the next two years as Democrats take over the House in just two weeks. The shutdown, which was due to take effect at midnight, is only partial, meaning 75 percent of the government will remain open but 800,000 federal workers will be impacted.

“This is the first showdown of a long battle,” said GOP political operative Ford O’Connell. He said the border wall issue won’t be going away anytime soon and with Democrats in power, “it is only going to get rougher.”

“This is the first step in building the narrative that Democrats are more concerned with spiting Donald Trump than doing the people’s business,” O’Connell said. “They are going to try to rain down holy hell on him.”

Read more from Alexi Cohan at the Boston Herald

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James Mattis Retires Amid Foreign Policy Shakeups

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has announced that will leave his post in February with a resignation letter in which the widely-respected former Marine general highlighted his differences with President Trump amid new plans to withdraw troops in the volatile Middle East.

“You have the right to a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours,” Mattis wrote to Trump, citing key issues such as the role of the United States in the international order and where national security priorities should lie — a day after Trump ordered a widely panned withdrawal from Syria and the same day as reports began to come out that the president wants to draw troops out of Afghanistan.

“While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” Mattis wrote.

The announcement came after Trump surprised U.S. allies and members of Congress Wednesday by announcing he plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, and coincided with news that Trump now wants to reduce the 14,000-strong U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by as much as half. It coincided with domestic turmoil as well, Trump’s fight with Congress over a border wall and a looming partial government shutdown.

GOP consultant Ford O’Connell said this departure was inevitable, especially in this time immediately following the midterm, when such shake-ups are common.

“They’ve had irreconcilable policy differences for several months now,” O’Connell told the Herald, adding that this allows Trump to put someone into place who agrees with the president that China is the foremost national security issue facing the U.S.

Read more from Sean Philip Cotter at the Boston Herald

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Is Trump Likely To Win Again In 2020?

GOP strategist Ford O'Connell argues that despite over a dozen possible Democratic candidates, Trump will still be re-elected in 2020.

Watch the video at Fox News

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Republicans In Wait-And-See Mode After Judge Strikes A Blow To Obamacare

Top congressional Republicans were quick to argue that a federal court ruling that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional won't affect the immediate future for health care consumers and the legal battle will take a long time to play out.

The comments from GOP leadership come, however, as some rank-and-file GOP lawmakers say that the ruling puts pressure on Congress to come up with a plan if the ruling striking down the law is ultimately upheld.

The landmark health care law does remain in effect for now, despite a ruling Friday in Texas that said that its individual coverage mandate is unconstitutional and that the rest of the law therefore cannot stand. It's too soon to say what the ruling will mean for the fate of the law since it is expected to face appeal and likely end up before the Supreme Court.

That has left Republicans in Congress, who very much want to make broad legislative changes to the Affordable Care Act, in wait-and-see mode over whether they will be forced into yet another fight over health care as a result of the current legal battle. Lawmakers are also anxious about the potential political fallout of disrupting the health care law that polls show is popular with many Americans.

But while Republican congressional leaders appear to be arguing that at least for now this remains an issue for the courts to resolve, President Donald Trump has seized on the ruling to immediately turn attention to Congress.

Some GOP strategists argue that now the political dynamics of any health care policy could even be more favorable to the Republican Party with Democrats in control of the House.

"This ruling would have been terrible for Republicans if they still controlled the House, but because they don't, they have the opportunity to sit back and focus on message and really this has the potential to give Republicans second life on this issue," GOP strategist Ford O'Connell said.

Read more from Clare Foran and Ted Barrett at CNN

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