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D.C. Memo: Open in case of (national) emergency

Trump’s budget; the Mueller report; Congress rejects border national emergency; and more.

photo of nancy pelosi speaking
This week the Senate joined the House in rejecting Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build his border wall.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Welcome to this week’s edition of the D.C. Memo, which, like Tucker Carlson, is often victimized by people who have the gall to point out things we actually said. This week in Washington, the president releases his budget, the House asks for a Mueller, and the Senate smacks down Trump’s national emergency declaration. So let’s get to it.

Three big things

Budget takeaway takeaway: On Monday, Trump sent his 2020 budget to Capitol Hill, where it was promptly scoffed at, derided and tossed aside, which is pretty much how these things always go. Yet Trump’s budget was notable for a couple of reasons. One was simply its size. At $4.75 trillion, it was the largest in history, which had to make Trump happy, bigly. Another was that it clearly laid out Trump’s priorities as he starts his campaign for re-election. Indeed, the thing seemed designed to troll Democrats; among other things, it gives more money to the military than the military asked for; it allocates $8.6 billion for a border wall; and it cuts spending for the EPA, the USDA, the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services and for entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicare. (It also very much pissed off Minnesota’s own Rep. Collin Peterson, the powerful chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.)

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Enough of that junk, though. We know what you really want to know about: winners and losers. Luckily, we cranked up the ol’ Takeaway of Takeaways™ machine to bring you the sort of insight that only the pros in DC can deliver:


Mueller, brewing: On Thursday, by the razor thin margin of 420-0, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure that exhorts the Justice Department to publicly release special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian election interference — the whole thing — once it’s done.

“The move is an attempt to ‘send a clear signal both to the American people and the Department of Justice’ that lawmakers expect to see the full account of Mueller’s work, according to the House Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.),” reports the Washington Post.

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“But the resolution by itself cannot force attorney general William P. Barr to publish more of the report than he intends to — and that is why even some of the Republicans supporting it complained that the measure was a waste of time. … As such, it is not clear if the Republican leader of the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), will put the resolution on the Senate floor for a vote.”

Worth noting are the four members of Congress who are clearly gunning for this year’s Profiles in Courage Award. Reps. Matt Gaetz, Justin Amash, Paul Gosar, and Thomas Massie all voted “present” on the resolution.

Livin’ la veto loca: But the big action in Congress this week was an effort — and eventual failure — by Senate Republicans to avoid a head-on collision with President Donald Trump over his declaration of a national emergency regarding the U.S.-Mexican border. Early in the week, with the Senate set to vote on a disapproval measure, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah proposed a compromise bill that would have required Congress to approve all national emergencies or see them expire after 30 days. But Lee’s efforts — which was aimed at making it seem like Congress hadn’t completely capitulated to Trump on the whole separation-of-powers thing (while setting a precedent they could use to box-in future Democratic presidents) — was stymied by two people. The first was Nancy Pelosi, who said Lee’s proposal was DOA in the House. The second person was Trump.

Per Politico: In a phone call to Lee on Wednesday, “Trump told the Utah senator that he would not be able to endorse Lee’s effort to change the National Emergencies Act to require congressional approval of emergency declarations — derailing a push by Republicans to find some way out of a confrontation with the president.”

Trump being Trump, he seemed more than fine with a confrontation, of course. “Republican Senators are overthinking tomorrow’s vote on National Emergency,” Trump said on Twitter. “It is very simply Border Security/No Crime — Should not be thought of any other way. We have a MAJOR NATIONAL EMERGENCY at our Border and the People of our Country know it very well!”

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But as the New York Times explained, “the president’s stand only increased the likelihood that the Democratic resolution to block his emergency would pass — less than 24 hours after the Senate rebuked him on a separate issue by voting to end military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. While it would be a loss for Mr. Trump, it may not be as bad as it could have been.”

Then things got weirder. On Wednesday night, three Republican senators — Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse and Ted Cruz — crashed Trump’s dinner with Melania to “plead with Trump for a deal,” reported the Post.

Instead of making a deal, though, Trump renewed his veto promise, which didn’t seem to do the trick, exactly. “By Thursday morning, more than a half dozen Republicans had publicly committed to join Senate Democrats in supporting the House-passed resolution of disapproval, even as Mr. Trump warned that such a vote, ‘is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!’” reported the Times. “… as he railed against the measure, two more Republican senators, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, announced that they would support the resolution of disapproval, joining five other Republican senators: Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.”

And, in fact, the Senate’s approved the measure Thursday afternoon, which now sets up Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency.

The week in takes

Chasing Amy: Baby we were born to be in it

In the 2020 presidential race, America’s attention this week was on Beto O’Rourke’s dreamy Vanity Fair cover, which coincided with everyone’s favorite punk-rocking, poetry writing, sk8er boi’s decision to officially jump in. And yet: Beto’s rollout did not exactly garner universal praise. Many were quick to slam O’Rourke for starting a campaign with a theme of grassroots support by appearing in a glossy magazine profile with a pull quote about himself that said: “I want to be in it. Man, I’m just born to be in it.” The Memo is pining for a Beto campaign stop at the Zumiez in Mall of America after his swing through Iowa.

Klobuchar was also in Texas, but she wasn’t driving down a dusty road with Annie Leibovitz (as far as we know). Instead, the senator went to South by Southwest in Austin and suggested a new tax on companies making cash from your data. (Yeah, Beto was there, too.)

Elizabeth Warren promptly went further than Klobuchar at the very same conference, calling for large tech companies to be broken up. And in news far more important than substantive debates about our Facebook overlords (boooo-ring) Klobuchar also addressed comb-gate. It was, she explained, “me sort of doing a mom thing. I didn’t have a fork, I used a comb to eat a salad very briefly on a plane.”

It’s not clear that Klobuchar’s attempts to smooth things over with Big Utensil has helped her in the polls. Yet. Only 3 percent of Iowans ranked her as their first choice in a Des Moines Register survey published Saturday. She’ll be back in Iowa this weekend and has stops planned in Waterloo, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids (for St. Patrick’s Day) and Davenport.

Joe Biden, whose indecisiveness is starting to make Hamlet look like U.S. Grant, also caught flak this week for his comment praising VP Mike Pence as a “decent guy.” Prez candidate Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year old mayor of a city roughly the size of Rochester (albeit in Pence’s home state), said the VP has “fanatical views.”

Also this week, Jay Inslee said he wants to abolish the filibuster. Buttigieg is open to court packing. And Julian Castro wants more studies of reparations. Plus, the DNC announced the party’s 2020 madness will culminate in Milwaukee, a city known for its love of socialism, beer, and Greek Freaks. Of course, what we’re really excited about is 16 more months of the nation’s foremost political minds wondering whether the city will have enough hotel rooms.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for sticking around. Until next week, feel free to send tips, suggestions, and sound advice to: