President Trump met with former Colombian Presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana at Mar-a-Lago last weekend, an undisclosed meeting that Colombian media says was arranged by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Rubio, Uribe, and Pastrana are all prominent critics of the peace deal Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos negotiated with the FARC guerrilla group. Next month, Santos is meeting with Trump in Washington, and he will urge Trump to support the peace deal, which won Santos the Nobel Peace Prize, by maintaining the $450 million in foreign aid that former President Barack Obama pledged to implement the agreement, McClatchy reports.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to confirm that the meeting had taken place. On Thursday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told McClatchy that Trump had "briefly said hello when the presidents walked past them," saying the two presidents happened to be visiting Trump's private club with an unidentified member. "There wasn't anything beyond a quick hello," she said.
On Twitter, meanwhile, Pastrana thanked Trump for the "cordial and very frank conversation about problems and perspectives in Colombia and the region," and Uribe ally and former vice president Francisco Santos told McClatchy that the former presidents had raised concerns with Trump about the turmoil in Colombia and Venezuela, and the FARC peace deal, in a short but direct meeting.
Colombian analysts focused on the damage to the peace process if Trump pulled funding or publicly opposed the peace plan, while in the U.S. observers were more concerned about the ease with which well-connected foreign leaders can meet with the president to press their case, without any public record. Mar-a-Lago's membership rolls are not public, the media is kept at arm's length when Trump is down there, and the club has no visitor log. You can read more about the meeting and the Colombian politics at The Miami Herald. Peter Weber
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Sunday roundly rejected President Trump's proposal that the Senate GOP go "nuclear" to end the government shutdown without Democrat's help. "I can tell you that would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our founding fathers," Durbin said in an interview on ABC. "We have to acknowledge our respect for the minority, and that is what the Senate tries to do in its composition and in its procedure."
When Democrats controlled the Senate in years past, Durbin did not seem to hold this view. In 2014, for example, he defended Democrats' 2013 decision to invoke the nuclear option with judicial nominees by arguing Democrats had "no choice" because of Republican obstructionism.
But this time, Durbin has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on his side; McConnell said through a representative Sunday he "opposes changing the rules on legislation." Watch an excerpt of Durbin's comments on ABC below. Bonnie Kristian
Durbin on Trump calling on Republicans to end the filibuster: “That would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our Founding Fathers.” (via ABC) pic.twitter.com/SazNujALdp
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 21, 2018
The White House public comment line is not accepting calls during the government shutdown, and the voicemail message has been updated to blame this change on Democrats.
"Thank you for calling the White House," the message says. "Unfortunately, we cannot answer your call today because congressional Democrats are holding government funding, including funding for our troops and other national security priorities, hostage to an unrelated immigration debate."
— Favian Quezada (@FavianQuezada) January 20, 2018
Callers are encouraged to contact the White House online instead, because apparently the internet is better suited to weathering the shutdown storm. Bonnie Kristian
Rand Paul calls for bipartisanship, immigration votes, and no more 'ridiculous' shutdown blame games
In an appearance on CNN's State of the Union Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went after both parties for their conduct during the government shutdown and throughout the bitterly partisan negotiations that produced it. "I think the blame game is ridiculous on both sides," he said. "I think the American people see through it."
Paul voted against his own party's proposal for a short-term funding bill on Friday, and he argues the GOP could secure a spending deal immediately if Republican leadership would guarantee — and Democrats would accept — an "open process" of votes on immigration policy, centrally including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
"The DACA issue has been held hostage to people on the left who want their perfect immigration bill or nothing, and people on the right who want nothing," Paul said on CNN. "And so, really, I'd say, let's vote on it. Let's just put it forward and vote on it. And I think the impasse could end today if Republicans would promise just to have a week of immigration votes, have a conclusion, let us all put forward amendments. I think the American people would like to see us hash out our differences through amendments and votes."
Watch a clip of Paul's interview below. Bonnie Kristian
Sen. Rand Paul calls for bipartisanship: “I’m kind of a believer in we were all elected, let’s vote on issues and let’s vote on amendments to issues. And I won’t win all the time, the Democrats won’t will all the time, but something will come out” #CNNSOTU https://t.co/4x9Lu3bw7T
— CNN (@CNN) January 21, 2018
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) argued on CBS Sunday that blame for the government shutdown rests entirely with Senate Democrats. "We're waiting for the Senate Democrats to open the government back up," Ryan told host John Dickerson.
"This is solely done by the Senate Democrats. It's absolutely meaningless," he continued, accusing Democrats of posturing that undercuts their own political aims. "What's so baffling about this is we [Republicans] were negotiating in good faith on [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)]," Ryan said. "We actually want to solve this problem. So it's not as if we were saying, 'No way, no how, no discussions.'"
Ryan made similar remarks on the House floor Saturday, pledging the GOP is "willing to work together in good faith on immigration" policy. "You should not have to go through this uncertainty," he said to federal workers. "You deserve so much better than this needless shutdown. And we hope that it will end very soon."
Watch an excerpt of Ryan's CBS interview below. Bonnie Kristian
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) January 21, 2018
President Trump tweeted Sunday that the GOP should change Senate rules to pass a funding bill to end the government shutdown without Democrats' help. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, has never shown enthusiasm for this "nuclear option," and he indicated through a representative Sunday he does not support Trump's idea.
"The Republican Conference opposes changing the rules on legislation," McConnell's statement said. That means it is unlikely a spending deal will be passed with a simple majority of 51 votes (rather than the present 60), as Trump hopes.
That intra-party opposition did not prevent the White House from continuing to advocate the change. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney argued on CNN's State of the Union Sunday that Trump's proposal "responds to this constant criticism we hear" that Republicans should be able to fund the government because they control both the executive and legislative branches.
"The answer is, as you've just laid out, it takes 60 votes in the Senate," Mulvaney said. "We cannot open the government without Senate Democrat support. We don't have that support, which is why we are where we are." Watch his comments in context below. Bonnie Kristian
White House OMB Director Mick Mulvaney says the government shutdown shows that the Senate should end the filibuster rule requiring 60 votes for a bill to pass or get Democrats to lend their support #CNNSOTU https://t.co/B1M5RNIdXI
— CNN (@CNN) January 21, 2018
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, implausibly but effectively played by a giggly Kate McKinnon in shoulder pads and facial prosthetics, visited Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update in a jovial mood to discuss his Russia investigation with host Colin Jost.
McKinnon's Mueller coyly insisted he could not discuss his ongoing probe into Russian election meddling and alleged Trump campaign collusion, but he was more than willing to offer a few hints of how well it's going. "Colin, you gotta understand, the guy didn't leave me a trail of breadcrumbs," Mueller said of President Trump. "He left me full loaves — fresh, seven-grain loaves straight from Panera Bread. I'm having a blast, man."
Watch the full skit below. Bonnie Kristian
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) removed Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) from the House Ethics Committee on Saturday in response to a New York Times report that Meehan used tax dollars to settle a case with a former female aide who accused him of sexual misconduct. Ryan also directed Meehan to repay the unknown amount out of his own pocket, and to submit to an ethics investigation.
The Times reported that Meehan, who is married, expressed romantic interest in the aide with a handwritten letter and "grew hostile" when she rebuffed him. After she left her position because of the harassment, the report says, the aide "reached a confidential agreement" with Meehan, including a settlement paid out of his congressional account.
Meehan has denied any inappropriate behavior. His office said in a statement he "has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism." Bonnie Kristian