What to Know in Washington: Trump Says Moral Duty to Build Wall

Donald Trump called for bipartisanship in his State of the Union address — on his terms.

The president offered Democrats nothing in exchange for their votes to build his promised wall on the Mexican border, while he excoriated them for their positions on abortion, blocking his nominees in the Senate and “ridiculous partisan investigations.”

In a speech delivered in the interlude between one partial government shutdown and the possible start of another, Trump didn’t meet his opposition in the middle so much as lay the groundwork for even more hostilities if they don’t concede. He offered no new plan to avoid a second shutdown and drew another line in the sand on his proposed border wall.

“I will get it built,” he vowed, without giving Democrats any reason to provide him their votes.

Trump didn’t directly raise his threat to close portions of the government again. But his insistence that the border wall will be built left open the possibility he’ll force another partial federal government shutdown in 10 days — following the 35-day closing that was the longest in U.S. history — if Democrats don’t concede to his demand for $5.7 billion to continue construction,  Margaret Talev and Mark Niquette report.

Democrats said afterward Trump focused too heavily on barriers instead of other, more cost-effective border technologies, such as drones, sensors and surveillance,  Michaela Ross reports.

“I don’t think he offered much of a path forward, it’s basically what we have been hearing from him pretty consistently,” Sen.  Gary Peters  (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in an interview. “Understanding border security requires a comprehensive solution, he didn’t give us much of a pathway tonight.”

SOTU Speech Highlights:

  • Trump issued a pointed warning to Democrats that “foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations” risk standing in the way of an “economic miracle” that’s happening in the U.S., Billy House reports.
  • The president said a trade deal with China will have to address not only what he called the chronic U.S. trade deficit but also changes in Chinese policies to protect American workers and businesses, Jenny Leonard reports.
  • Trump pledged to bring home U.S. troops from Syria with Islamic State nearly defeated and to negotiate an exit from Afghanistan after almost two decades of war, Glen Carey and Nick Wadhams report.
  • He’ll meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam,Youkyung Lee and Nick Wadhams report.

Happening on the Hill

Syria Rebuke: The Republican-controlled Senate voted to require Trump to impose new sanctions on Syria. The 77-23 vote yesterday, a rare break with the president, was prompted by Senate Republicans’ strong disapproval of Trump’s announcement in December that he was declaring victory against Islamic State in Syria and withdrawing U.S. forces from the country.The measure includes separate provisions Democrats largely do not support. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) introduced a stand-alone Syria sanctions bill in his chamber that passed by voice vote last month. Read more from Daniel Flatley. Trump will likely discuss the Syria withdrawal again today, as heads to the State Department for a 3 p.m. address to a global coalition to defeat Islamic State.

Saudi Sanctions: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, plans to escalate pressure on the Trump administration to act against Saudi Arabia over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as a deadline nears for deciding whether to impose additional sanctions. Menendez is planning fresh legislation designed to impose a stronger U.S. response to the killing. Menendez said yesterday he’s acting after failing to receive a reply from the administration to a letter he and 21 other senators in both parties sent four months ago invoking the Magnitsky Act of 2016, which gave the Trump administration 120 days to make a decision on new sanctions related to the circumstances of Khashoggi’s murder in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.  Read more from Steven T. Dennis and Daniel Flatley.

Tax Extenders: If lawmakers don’t renew temporary tax breaks in the upcoming spending bill they may not have another near-term opportunity, Senate Finance Chairman  Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said. “There are negotiations going on,” he told Bloomberg Tax yesterday when asked about the possibility of the breaks, known as extenders, catching a ride on the spending bill. “I don’t know when the next opportunity is, and it’s very important to get it done just about now if people are going to take advantage of it.”  Read more from Allyson Versprille.

IRS Overhaul: Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) thinks a bipartisan deal can be reached to overhaul the Internal Revenue Service. Portman told reporters following Trump’s speech that he wants to “recreate the momentum” on the issue that existed at the end of 2018. The then Republican-led House passed an IRS-revamp bill in December, but the Senate didn’t act before the end of the 115th Congress. Portman said he met with Grassley about the issue. Read more from Allyson Versprille.

Reactions and Analysis:

  • The president called for both parties to help him lower drug costs in his State of the Union address, but Democrats in Congress aren’t looking for him to guide their pricing bills, Alex Ruoff reports.
  • Infrastructure legislation is not just an option, it’s a necessity, Trump said. But the president’s call for unity was challenged by Democrats, who faulted the president for calling for an infrastructure plan without explaining how to finance it, Shaun Courntey reports.
  • Trump spent a small portion of his address touting the tax cuts Republicans passed at the end of 2017, but was silent on the possibility of more, Allyson Versprille reports.
  • Democrats are going to use Trump’s call for family leave to reintroduce their own plan next week, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who is introducing legislation.
  • Trump touted “a revolution in American energy” that has made the U.S. “a net exporter” — but some of his celebration might be premature, Jennifer A. Dlouhy reports.
  • Trump inflated his economic achievements, touting numbers that don’t match up with official data and highlighting some accomplishments that left out key context, Jeanna Smialek and Katia Dmitrieva report.

Democratic Response:  Rising Democratic Party star and former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams argued that Trump and Republicans have left the nation’s middle class adrift by abandoning the values of fairness and equality, speaking minutes after the president heralded the economy as one of his top achievements. The first black woman to deliver the  State of the Union rebuttal called for a unity of purpose to restore the promise of “opportunity for all,” adding that “we are coming for America, for a better America.” She called for progressive policies at odds with much of Trump’s agenda, including abortion rights, regulations to combat climate change, gun control, gay rights and labor protections.  Read more from Laura Litvan .

Politics & Elections

Klobuchar Plans Announcement: Sen. Amy Klobuchar  (D-Minn.) said she plans a “big announcement” on Sunday, boosting the speculation that she will join the growing pool of presidential hopefuls. “I’m making a big announcement on Sunday,” Klobuchar said on Twitter last night.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, she said she’d make clear her decision on whether or not to run for president. The announcement is planned for Boom Island in Minneapolis, a park overlooking the Mississippi River. Her future itinerary also hints at the decision, as she’s set to go to Iowa later this month to speak at an event in Ankeny. Iowa holds the first presidential caucus in early 2020.  Read more from Kasia Klimasinska.

O’Rourke Undecided: Beto O’Rourke, the former House member from Texas who gained a national following during his unsuccessful bid for the Senate, told Oprah Winfrey in an interview yesterday that he plans to decide on whether to run for the Democratic presidential nomination by the end of February. “The serious answer is really soon,” he said, according to the Texas Tribune. “Before the end of this month.”

The conversation, recorded in New York City for later broadcast, was between two Americans famous enough to be known by just their first names. The interview took place as “draft Beto” efforts are playing out in early nomination voting states to try to encourage him to get into the race.  Read more from John McCormick.

Trump Adviser’s Infrastructure Move: Tom Barrack, a decades-old confidant of Trump, threw an extravagant inauguration party after the president’s election featuring foreign dignitaries, multibillionaires, Republican leaders, conservative luminaries and top executives from Barrack’s real estate investment firm, Colony Capital. Within a month of the dinner, Colony had formalized a plan to take advantage of this network of connections, an internal, eight-page document reviewed by Bloomberg shows. Colony would open a Washington office to capitalize on its ties to the White House and foreign governments. The office’s focus would be to pursue deals arising from Trump’s promised $1 trillion infrastructure push.

A spokesman for Colony said the plan for a Washington office was conceived by Rick Gates, a trusted deputy of Barrack’s. Gates had helped orchestrate the inauguration and chairman’s dinner, according to two people familiar with the matter. He later pleaded guilty to conspiracy and false statement charges related to his work as the right-hand man of Paul Manafort when they did political consulting in Ukraine.  Read more from Caleb Melby and David Voreacos.

Movers & Shakeups

World Bank Nomination: Trump will announce the U.S. candidate for World Bank president at 1:30 p.m. today, according to a statement from the White House. Trump plans to pick senior Treasury official David Malpass, according to two administration officials.

The pick could spark some controversy. The World Bank’s top job should be open to candidates from all countries rather than being reserved for a U.S. nominee, as tradition has dictated for more than seven decades, according to a Colombian economist who ran for the job. “The big question is whether this will be a transparent process or not,” said Jose Antonio Ocampo, a former finance minister of Colombia who was a candidate to be president of the World Bank in 2012. Jim Yong Kim, who was nominate d by the U.S., was appointed to the role by the lender’s executive board, a move Ocampo says was a foregone conclusion.  Read more from Andrew Mayeda.