Senate Dems Cruz-ing for a bruising

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On the roster: Senate Dems Cruz-ing for a bruising - Trump fires up pro-life demonstrators - Ryan sets fundraising record - Report: FBI investigating connection between Putin, NRA - **HIC**

Senate Democrats gambled on risking a government shutdown in the not-unreasonable expectation that House Republicans would fall to pieces. 

The fact that the House GOP not only passed a one-month continuation of current federal spending but also managed to add a six-year extension of a health insurance program for children of lower-income families is a minor miracle.

While we are keen to avoid defining down expectations too swiftly for Congress since it does just fine in that regard all by itself, one doubts that Democrats would have started their shutdown gambit had they known the House could act so decisively. It is, after all, much easier to say that you are standing on principle and refusing to keep the government open when there isn’t a viable means by which to do so. 

This was a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too proposition for members of the Blue Team. They could tell pro-immigration activists that they were prepared to trigger a shutdown over a demand for legislation shielding young adults who were brought to the United States as minors, but still get to blame Republicans for the shutdown anyway. 

Based on the prior performance of House Republicans, it was hardly far-fetched to think that they would fail to come up with legislation and certainly not be able to do it on a party-line vote. During the 16-day shutdown in October 2013, House Republicans were at each other’s throats before eventually collapsing in a sweaty heap.

What Democrats may have failed to understand, though, is that they are now, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi put it five years ago, committing “legislative arson.” Just as Sen. Ted Cruz took out his blowtorch to score points on ObamaCare, Democrats are now sparking up to score on immigration. 

We don’t know whether President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were able to come closer to compromise in their meeting today, but the odds are still good that before this winter is done, we will see the government move to shutdown mode. 

We might see a shutdown starting at midnight tonight, we might see a super-short-term deal to keep negotiating for another week or so, or we might end up with Democrats flinching and passing the House version now to resume the countdown next month. 

The problem with the way Democrats have gotten into this pickle is that, much like Cruz & Co. in 2013, they have not left themselves with much of an exit strategy. When you use fiscal legislation to try to advance substantially unrelated policy, how can you relent until your demand is met? 

Polls from Quinnipiac University and WaPo/ABC News agree that voters would reasonably blame the party in power if there is a government shutdown. But that doesn’t mean that it will stay that way.

How many days of troops serving without pay, shuttered offices and market disruptions are Democrats willing to endure for the sake of DREAMers who are still more than a month away from their deadline? This, of course, relies on the president not blowing up his own party, hardly a sure thing. But at least for now, Republicans have regained the upper hand. 

We should always remember that it is not good for Republicans to be in this spot. Their inability to appropriate funds in an ordinary, predictable fashion is a mark of discredit for a party in control of both Houses and the presidency.

But that doesn’t mean that Democrats get away scot-free. While they will have considerable leverage as the deadline for DREAMers draws closer, today is not their day. In fact, if Schumer is not able to avert a shutdown now, it will do a great deal to reinforce the idea that extreme voices are crowding out sensible ones in the Democratic Party. 

The Cruz shutdown of 2013 was a harbinger of things to come for the GOP: Electoral successes but deepening dysfunction within the party itself. 

If Democrats have come so quickly to imitate their rivals, we will have good insights on this year’s midterms and the party’s prospects for 2020. 

“What greater affinity or relation of interest can be conceived between the carpenter and blacksmith, and the linen manufacturer or stocking weaver, than between the merchant and either of them?” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 36

Chicago Tribune: “Legendary literary figure Edgar Allan Poe, who celebrated his birthday on Jan. 19, accomplished much during his short lifespan. … Despite today’s world-wide acclaim of his prose and talent, Poe’s life is an example of the now familiar classic depiction of ‘the struggling writer.’ He spent his life competing with fellow American writers jealous of his talent, after struggling with his unhappy youth spent mostly without parents, separated from his siblings and forced to live with a cruel foster family. … Black Button Eyes Productions is concluding its 2017-18 season with the Chicago premiere musical ‘Nevermore — The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe.’ Fast-paced and cleverly staged with choreography by Derek Van Barham, this moving two-hour, one intermission tale is the life story of the iconic writer of the macabre told through haunting music, poetic storytelling, and stunning stage design.”

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Trump net job-approval rating: -18.6 points
Change from one week ago: up 5 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

Fox News: “Pro-life activists took to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Friday to commemorate the 45th March for Life, an annual pro-life event that protests Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S. ‘Here we are at the 45th year – we never anticipated that we would be here for so long. Today, we grieve the loss of life. But it’s also an enthusiastic time; we’re changing hearts and minds,’ Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, told Fox News ahead of the event on Friday. The march, which is the biggest pro-life event in the country, was first started in 1974 by Nellie Gray… Gray was a fierce advocate and ‘voice for the voiceless,’ as the official slogan for the march goes. … This year’s March for Life [included] some notable speakers, such as President Trump, who spoke to the activists via satellite. House Speaker Paul Ryan also spoke.”

Administration creates federal office to protect doctors on conscience claims - 
AP: “Reinforcing its strong connection with social conservatives, the Trump administration announced Thursday a new federal office to protect medical providers refusing to participate in abortion, assisted suicide or other procedures on moral or religious grounds. Leading Democrats and LGBT groups immediately denounced the move, saying ‘conscience protections’ could become a license to discriminate, particularly against gay and transgender people. The announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services came a day ahead of the annual march on Washington by abortion opponents, who will be addressed via video link by President Donald Trump. HHS put on a formal event in the department’s Great Hall, with Republican lawmakers and activists for conscience protections as invited speakers.”

Kevin Williamson: ‘Marching for Life’ - National Review: “Some of my pro-abortion friends are very fond of the Monty Python school of reproductive theology. You know the song: ‘Every sperm is sacred / every sperm is great / when a sperm is wasted / God gets quite irate.’ They ask: ‘How can you be against abortion while considering masturbation an act of mass murder? Huh? Huh?’ … One hears a lot from them about ‘potential’ lives. But on the matter of abortion, we aren’t talking about ‘potential’ anything. A sperm cell or an egg cell has your DNA. It’s part of your body. I may not think everything you do with your own body is good or wise (not every tattoo is advisable), but I’m not going to throw you in prison over it, either. You mustn’t kill your children.”

Politico: “House Speaker Paul Ryan raised more than $44 million in 2017, an off-year record for any House leader — a financial haul Republicans hope will shore up vulnerable GOP members in what’s shaping up to be a tough midterm cycle for Republicans. In the last quarter, Ryan raised $4.8 million, his political operation will announce Thursday — down from $6.7 million in the third quarter. The infusion of cash comes after Republicans passed a tax reform law last December, which GOP members said would drive support among voters and donors. … In 2017, Ryan transferred $32 million to the National Republican Campaign Committee, which announced its own record-breaking off-year total with $85 million raised over the last year. Ryan also transferred $1.7 million directly to GOP members, in addition to hosting 49 fundraisers for members.”

Former GOP congressman jumps in race against scandal-plagued Dem - The Nevada Independent: “Former GOP Rep. Cresent Hardy has formally jumped into the race for Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, which he used to represent. Hardy filed paperwork Thursday with the Federal Election Commission, indicating he’s running for the seat held by Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who said he isn’t seeking re-election. Kihuen is facing an ethics investigation amid allegations of sexual harassment, which he has denied. Hardy’s announcement comes three days after Republican Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony announced he’s dropping out of the contest.”

Jungle primary may hamper Dem hopes for California House races - Politico: “Democrats who cheered the retirement announcements of Reps. Darrell Issa and Ed Royce last week are sobering up to a new fear: A potential nightmare scenario in which no Democratic candidate ends up on the November ballot in either seat, dealing a blow to the party’s efforts to retake the House. The problem is California’s unusual, top-two primary system, where the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation advance to the November general election. … In recent days, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee acknowledged it could be forced to spend money in one or both primaries to ensure that two Republican candidates do not finish atop the field in June. And Democratic candidates, mindful of a potential culling effort, have sped up their voter outreach, polling and opposition research operations.”

‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author passes on Ohio Senate run - WOSU: “Despite another effort to draft ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author J.D. Vance to run for U.S. Senate, Vance announced Friday that people should ‘count me out of politics for now.’ … Back in September, Vance said he had taken ‘a serious look’ at entering the Senate race but opted out for the sake of his family. Months later, his logic doesn't seem to have changed. ‘I am truly honored by everyone who encouraged me to run for the Senate this year,’ Vance wrote in a statement. ‘I thought seriously about running in August 2017, but decided that the timing was awful for my young family. Some things have changed since then, but not enough to make running a good idea.’”

Dems back away from Mississippi Senate run -
 Jackson [Mississippi] Clarion Ledger: “The leading Democrat considering a bid for the Senate announced he won’t run as new internal polling shows incumbent U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker with a commanding lead in a possible Republican primary. Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said Thursday, ‘A 2018 campaign would take me away from my duties to our state and divert my attention away from issues that I feel are very important.’ … While Mississippi is considered a strong red state, Democrats have been hopeful that a potentially messy GOP primary could open up opportunities for a steal…”

McClatchyDC: “The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy. FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said. It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections. It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up. All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because Mueller’s investigation is confidential and mostly involves classified information. A spokesman for Mueller’s office declined comment.”

Mueller foes push anti-FBI memo - CBS News: “Republican members of Congress, mostly conservative, are calling for the release of a brief memo written by the House Intelligence Committee about alleged FISA surveillance abuses. The committee had voted along party lines Thursday to allow House members to read the memo. ‘I viewed the classified report from House Intel relating to the FBI, FISA abuses, the infamous Russian dossier, and so-called ‘Russian collusion.’ What I saw is absolutely shocking,’ Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, tweeted. But the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, characterized the memo as misleading and inaccurate. … ‘Rife with factual inaccuracies and referencing highly classified materials that most of Republican Intelligence Committee members were forced to acknowledge they had never read, this is meant only to give Republican House members a distorted view of the FBI,’ Schiff's statement said.”

Omarosa reportedly has tapes of White House meetings NY Daily News: “Former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman may have taped confidential West Wing conversations and fears being caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, sources told the Daily News on Thursday. … The soon-to-be former assistant to President Trump and director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison has held exploratory meetings with several high profile attorneys for potential representation, a source told The News. … It is not immediately clear why the former ‘Apprentice’ star is seeking legal help, but those with knowledge of her unceremonious removal from the White House say she is ‘very concerned’ that trouble is on the horizon.”

Trump may duck traditional Super Bowl pregame interview - Variety 

Pence will still head out on his Middle East trip despite shutdown potential - AP

Trump lawyer used corporate cutout to pay pornographic actress - WSJ

Continetti: ‘Samantha Power Regrets’ - Free Beacon

Poll: Voters go from ‘hopeful’ to ‘disgusted’ in feelings toward Trump during his first year - NBC News

Pelosi to judge televised transgender beauty contest for RuPaul - Fox News

Whether there is a shutdown or not, this weekend Chris Wallace will sit down with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.

“Only bad news on Fridays – and when someone lights a gas truck on fire on I-15.” –Former Republican Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney joking with attendees at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City when he was asked whether he would be announcing an anticipated run for Senate in the Beehive State. A truck carrying 9,000 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel caught fire on the interstate late Thursday.

“With it looking more and more likely that a ‘shut down’ may be coming, I am surprised at how little push-back there is to the common reports that Republicans will get the blame because they ‘control’ the White House and both houses of Congress. Given that Senate rules essentially require 60 votes to exercise actual control, would you agree that describing Republicans as ‘controlling’ the legislative branch is not only misleading, but just plain wrong? Or is it just too much to ask for voters (and the public in general) to have the depth of understanding, or even interest, to really grasp this concept?  Raised in Virginia, not ‘West- by God Virginia’ I truly appreciate your commentary and insight...” – Frank Lacy, Fort Stockton, Texas

[Ed. note: Hey, Plain Virginia is okay by me! If West Virginia is “almost Heaven” then Virginia is almost almost Heaven. As for the semantics of the term “control,” I’m afraid I can’t really summon a better word. Yes, it’s true that without a supermajority, Republicans need Democratic votes to advance legislation under normal rules. But Republicans still control the Senate in that they chose the majority leader who, along with his leadership team, as expansive powers to decide what will be brought to the floor and when. Democrats have no say in determining the business of the Senate. Neither do Democrats have any say in passing budgets nor confirming executive branch appointees. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with another word that succinctly reflects that degree of, well, control.]  

“G’day Chris … Re the official ‘opposition’ party - I once heard a wise politician (a dying breed, alas!) note that ‘The job of the opposition is not just to oppose, but to present a credible alternative’. Seems to me that your Democrats have lost sight of this?” – Mike O’Neill, New Zealand

[Ed. note: Hello again, Mr. O’Neill! You’re certainly not wrong about the Democrats. Nor would it have been wrong to say about Republicans during Barack Obama’s presidency. And while it is true that mature, sensible leadership means respecting the obligations you describe, I would also say that “no” in not an unfair position to take. American voters like divided government for precisely the reason that gridlock tends to produce fewer bad outcomes than parliamentary systems in which one group can railroad through an agenda. We are so protective of the rights of legislative minorities because American government places a premium on caution and deliberative speed. Now, the fact that our Congress regularly fails to execute basic functions suggests that we have gotten out of whack, but I will continue to support the idea of empowered minorities.]

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KTRK: “A worker had a close call when fermented molasses created a hazardous environment in the cargo hold of a ship. At about 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Houston firefighters were called to rescue a trapped victim in the ship’s hold, docked at the Port of Houston. According to HFD, the cargo hold 75 feet down the ship contained molasses which had started to ferment, causing a hazardous environment and rendering the worker unconscious. Members of the Port of Houston Fire Department entered the container with protective gear and brought the worker to safety. … Officials explained the molasses on the ship is food grade, used in products from baked beans to cookies. It can ferment after sitting and exposure to certain temperatures. … The victim regained consciousness and was taken to a nearby hospital. Port firefighters said they are trained to deal with any kind of material they could encounter at any minute, even molasses on a freezing cold morning.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.