Senate stuns with two-year spending deal

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On the roster: Senate stuns with two-year spending deal - Clinton hatchet man Blumenthal tried to spin Steele - Holder opens door to presidential run - Mo’ problems for GOP - The good daycares do threading…

SENATE STUNS WITH TWO-YEAR SPENDING DEAL 
Fox News: “Republican and Democratic Senate leaders announced a budget agreement Wednesday that includes a boost in spending for the Pentagon and would keep the government running past a looming deadline. 

‘I am pleased to announce that our bipartisan, bicameral negotiations on defense spending and other priorities have yielded a significant agreement,’ Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor speech. ‘We have reached a budget deal that neither side loves, but both sides can be proud of,’ Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

McConnell said the measure would rewrite existing defense limits that have ‘hamstrung our armed forces and jeopardized our national security.’ The Senate's top Republican says there's agreement on a two-year, almost $400 billion budget deal that would provide Pentagon and domestic programs with huge spending increases. 

The measure, aides said, also contains almost $90 billion in overdue disaster aid and an increase in the government borrowing cap that would prevent a first-ever U.S. government default on its obligations. Congress, though, still has to approve an overall spending package by March 23 to fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday night approved a stopgap spending bill to run the government through March 23 and bolster defense funding, sending the bill to the Senate for consideration.”

McConnell promises open process on immigration vote - The Hill: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is pledging to begin a free-flowing immigration debate next week, saying any proposal that gets 60 votes could get through the upper chamber. McConnell, known for keeping his cards close to the vest, said Tuesday that the impending fiscal showdown will mark a ‘rare occasion’ for an open debate and an ‘opportunity for a thousand flowers to bloom.’ ‘I’m going to structure in such a way that’s fair to everyone. ... Whoever gets to 60 wins,’ he said during a press conference.”

House Dems demand immigration vote, too -
 Roll Call: “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday there is a budget agreement that reflects Democratic priorities but that she and her caucus cannot support it without a commitment from Speaker Paul D. Ryan to an open floor debate on immigration. ‘This morning, we took a measure of our Caucus because the package does nothing to advance bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers in the House,’ the California Democrat said in a statement. ‘Without a commitment from Speaker Ryan comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support.’”

THE RULEBOOK: SECURITY IS AN INSIDE JOB 
“It was remarked in the preceding paper, that weakness and divisions at home would invite dangers from abroad; and that nothing would tend more to secure us from them than union, strength, and good government within ourselves. This subject is copious and cannot easily be exhausted.” – John JayFederalist No. 5

TIME OUT: KABOOM
 
History: “On this day in 1812, the most violent of a series of earthquakes near Missouri causes a so-called fluvial tsunami in the Mississippi River, actually making the river run backward for several hours. The series of tremors, which took place between December 1811 and March 1812, were the most powerful in the history of the United States. [The one on Feb. 7] was estimated at an amazing 8.8-magnitude and was probably one of the strongest quakes in human history. Church bells rang in Boston, thousands of miles away, from the shaking. Brick walls were toppled in Cincinnati. In the Mississippi River, water turned brown and whirlpools developed suddenly from the depressions created in the riverbed. Waterfalls were created in an instant; in one report, 30 boats were helplessly thrown over falls, killing the people on board. Many of the small islands in the middle of the river, often used as bases by river pirates, permanently disappeared.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
40 percent 
Average disapproval: 54.8 percent 
Net Score: 
-14.8 points
Change from one week ago: no change 
[Average includes: IBD: 35% - 58%; Gallup: 40% approve - 57% disapprove; Monmouth University: 44% approve - 48% disapprove; Fox News: 45% approve - 53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 36% approve - 58% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 
40.2 percent
Democratic average: 47.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 7.6 points 
Change from one week ago:
 no change  
[Average includes: IBD: 46% Dems - 41% GOP; Monmouth University: 47% Dems - 45% GOP; Fox News: 44% Dems - 38% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 51% Dems - 38% GOP; ABC News/WaPo: 51% Dems - 39% GOP.]

CLINTON HATCHET MAN BLUMENTHAL TRIED TO SPIN STEELE 
Fox News: “Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., strongly implied to Fox News Tuesday night that Clinton family confidant Sidney Blumenthal was a key link in a chain of information that helped create the controversial Trump-Russia dossier. Gowdy told Fox News’ ‘The Story’ that ‘when you hear who ... one of the sources of that information is, you're going to think, ‘Oh my gosh, I've heard that name somewhere before.’’ When host Martha MacCallum asked if he was referring to Blumenthal, Gowdy answered, ‘That'd be really warm. You're warm, yeah.’ … However, Gowdy admitted that special counsel Robert Mueller would have been called in to investigate Russian actions during the 2016 election ‘regardless of whether or not there's a dossier.’” 

Used a State Department cutout - WaPo: “[Former British spy Christopher Steele] kept up his communications with the FBI, which over months included phone calls, emails and Skype exchanges that have been documented in hundreds of pages of internal FBI records reviewed by congressional investigators. In October, he shared with his contacts at the bureau another report he had received from a State Department employee about Trump and Russia, according to people familiar with the document. It was written by Cody Shearer, a freelance journalist who was friends with Hillary and Bill Clinton. Shearer gave it to author and Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal, who transmitted it to Jonathan Winer, then a State Department official. The memo claimed that a source inside the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) spy agency alleged that Trump had financial ties to influential Russians and that the FSB had evidence of him engaging in compromising personal behavior, according to a copy obtained by The Post.”

Newly revealed texts say Obama was bird dogging Russia probe - Fox News: “Newly revealed text messages between FBI paramours Peter Strzok and Lisa Page include an exchange about preparing talking points for then-FBI Director James Comey to give to then-President Barack Obama, who wanted ‘to know everything we’re doing.’ The message, from Page to Strzok, was among thousands of texts between the lovers reviewed by Fox News. The pair both worked at one point for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Page wrote to Strzok on Sept. 2, 2016, about prepping Comey because ‘potus wants to know everything we’re doing.’ According to a newly released Senate report, this text raises questions about Obama's personal involvement in the Clinton email investigation.”

Trump, Rosenstein met on counter-Nunes memo - WashEx: “President Trump and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the memo put together by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee to rebut the Republican memo alleging abuses of the government's surveillance authority. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the president has seen the memo, and it is undergoing the same review process that its Republican counterpart went through. ‘The president has seen the memo. He met with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein within the last hour to discuss some of the differences between the two memos,’ she said. ‘And we are undergoing the exact same process that we did with the previous memo in which we will go through a full and thorough legal and national security review. We are in the middle of the process.’”

Manafort co-defendant’s legal team warns of ‘prejudicial’ information -Bloomberg: “When three lawyers for Paul Manafort’s co-defendant Rick Gates asked to be removed the case, speculation mounted that a plea deal was in the works. The lawyers filed their reasons for leaving in an exhibit under seal on Feb. 1, and since then there’s been no explanation of why they wanted to quit the money-laundering case brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson … unsealed a document that offers a partial reason for their actions. ‘The exhibit discloses private information regarding Mr. Gates,’ the defense team wrote in the two-page document that refers to the still-sealed exhibit. ‘The court has noted on more than one occasion that this case is subject to substantial publicity and media coverage. The exhibit involves highly sensitive matters concerning the defendant and public disclosure of the information would potentially be prejudicial to the defendant.’”

Report: Trump may shake up political team following Nunes fizzle - Vanity Fair: “After the much-hyped Nunes memo failed to deliver the narrative reset that the White House hoped for, Donald Trump is discussing a shake-up to his West Wing, three sources familiar with the president’s thinking told me. These people say the president is increasingly frustrated that members of his administration aren’t going to war for him, and he’s being encouraged by his daughter Ivanka to bring in new blood. ‘The president’s view is that allies on the outside are doing a better job defending him than his political shop,’ one Republican close to the White House told [Gabriel Sherman]. Another outside adviser who regularly speaks with Trump said that the president is regretting some of his Cabinet choices. ‘He’s saying he should have put Rudy [Giuliani] at State and Chris Christie at Justice.’ Trump has recently told advisers he wants a ‘killer’ to steer the White House’s response to Robert Mueller’s investigation and craft a midterm election message for him to stump on this fall.”

T-Rex: Russians already meddling in midterms - Fox News: “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday warned the United States is ill-prepared to prevent Russian interference in the upcoming midterms, as it was in the 2016 general election. ‘I don't know that I would say we are better prepared, because the Russians will adapt as well,’ Tillerson said in an exclusive interview with Fox News in Bogota, Colombia. ‘The point is, if it's their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that. We can take steps we can take but this is something that, once they decide they are going to do it, it's very difficult to preempt it.’ Russia is already attempting to interfere ‘in the U.S. in 2018’ ahead of congressional midterm elections as it did in the 2016 general election, he said. … The secretary also condemned the Russian government’s activities in Syria - supporting the Assad regime as it kills civilians with chemical and conventional weapons.”

How big is your button? - AP: “President Donald Trump has asked the Pentagon to plan a grand parade of the U.S. armed forces in Washington this year to celebrate military strength, officials said Tuesday. The Washington Post, which was first to report the plan, said Trump wants an elaborate parade this year with soldiers marching and tanks rolling, but no date has been selected. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the request Tuesday evening. She said Trump wants the Pentagon to ‘explore a celebration’ that will allow Americans to show appreciation for the military.”

HOLDER OPENS DOOR TO PRESIDENTIAL RUN 
WashTimes: “Former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday he’s considering making a run for president. ‘I think I’ll make a decision by the end of the year about whether or not there’s another chapter,’ Mr. Holder said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Holder is currently fundraising and flexing his political muscles by running former President Barack Obama’s chief political operation, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, to try to put their party in better shape ahead of the redrawing of political maps after the 2020 census. Asked if those were a prelude to running for office, he said ‘We’ll see.’ Pressed again on whether that meant a presidential bid, he again said, ‘We’ll see.’”

Sets statehouse targets in GOP territory - 
NYT: “A Democratic group backed by former President Barack Obama intends to pour millions of dollars into an eclectic array of elections in a dozen states, in an effort to block Republicans from single-handedly drawing congressional maps after 2020, officials leading the group said. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, formed last year under the leadership of Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general, has settled on a strategy to contest a combination of governorships, legislative seats and more obscure state offices to chip away at Republicans’ sweeping control of the redistricting process. Mr. Holder said in an interview that the group was chiefly determined to deny Republicans so-called trifectas in state governments — places where a single party controls the governorship and an entire legislature, as Republicans do in Ohio and Florida, among other critical battlegrounds.”

Biden recruiting donors - Politico: “Joe Biden has started recruiting top donors for his PAC's finance committee — but some of them are resisting signing on, wary that he'll decide again not to pull the trigger on a presidential bid and that their money might be better spent elsewhere. They want to see clear moves that his own campaign is underway before writing him more checks. That’s not coming anytime soon: though Biden has mapped out ambitious plans to help Democrats running in this year's midterms, he hasn't set a timeline for deciding on a 2020 bid, let alone decided to run, according to four people who've spoken with him. … The questions about Biden’s political plans continue as he and his staff, in consultation with Democratic leaders in Washington and aides to Barack Obama, have begun making plans for the next nine months that will likely make the former vice president the most active high-profile Democratic surrogate on the trail.”

Dems notch major upset in Missouri special election - Daily Beast: “Democratic candidate Mike Revis on Tuesday flipped what had been a deep-red State House seat in Missouri by a 108-vote margin over his Republican opponent. Revis defeated GOP candidate David C. Linton in the special election to replace Rep. John McCaherty, who left the office to focus on his run for Jefferson County executive. President Trump won the heavily Republican district by a 61-33 margin in the 2016 election. There were three other special elections in the state on Tuesday night, all of which the Republican Party defended. However, there were major net swings towards Democrats. Revis' win is likely welcome news for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), thought to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents facing reelection this year in a state that Trump won by over 18 points.”

Mo’ problems for GOP - St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Josh Hawley, the Missouri attorney general and rising Republican star who appeared to have a clear path to the party’s U.S. Senate nomination this year, is now facing vague but widespread rumors of buyer’s remorse in the party. One of Hawley’s top supporters, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth of Missouri, hinted Tuesday that he believes those rumors might stem from incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. — who has shown in the past a talent for scrambling the home turf of her enemies. Danforth offered no evidence implicating McCaskill, and her office is strongly denying any role. The concerns about Hawley’s campaign, conveyed in part by anonymous sources on national political websites, focus on his fundraising, which is solid by most standards but hasn’t kept up with McCaskill’s financial juggernaut.”

Polls show hot Florida Senate race in the making - Politico: Politico: “Sen. Bill Nelson is either tied with Gov. Rick Scott or starting to pull ahead of the likely Republican challenger in what could be the nation’s most-expensive Senate race, according to a pair of dueling polls released today. In a Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey of 625 registered Florida voters, Nelson is basically tied with Scott, 45-44 percent. That result is essentially unchanged since the firm’s October poll, which found the two tied evenly at 44 percent each. A University of North Florida poll of 429 likely Florida voters, however, had better news for the incumbent. It showed Nelson leading Scott 48-42 percent. Nelson’s 6-point advantage has grown since UNF’s last survey, in October, when the Democrat had a marginal one-point lead over Scott, 37-36 percent.”

Nevada GOP tries recalls to take back state Senate - AP: “Nevada’s major political parties are locked in a legal battle over a Republican effort to take control of the state Senate by recalling two freshly elected Democratic lawmakers — a tactic that Democrats warn could undermine the validity of elections across the U.S. Experts and those from both parties say the move could be the way of the future for the losing side to keep control of influential statehouses. In Nevada, no official reason was given for the recalls, and none was required. Some conservatives have been open about hoping Republicans gain partisan advantage.” 

Dems look to make Trump the issue in Pa. special House race - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Watching the TV ads attacking Democrat Conor Lamb, you’d think the special-election candidate in the 18th Congressional District was joined at the hip with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. But it’s his rival, Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, who appears most publicly with his party’s leaders. And some upstart liberal groups are trying to raise a fuss about it. This week, the Democratic-friendly American Democracy Legal Fund asked the Government Accounting Office to review President Donald Trump’s visit Jan. 18 to a North Fayette equipment shop, questioning if it amounted to a campaign stop on the taxpayers’ account. … ‘We believe it is of the utmost importance for this issue to be investigated.’ Mr. Trump said little about Mr. Saccone during the visit.”

Republican incumbent leads the way in Iowa gubernatorial race - Des Moines Register: “If the election for Iowa governor were held today, incumbent Republican Kim Reynolds would defeat all five of the leading Democrats trying to succeed her as the state’s chief executive. The new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll suggests two of those would-be challengers — state Sen. Nate Boulton and retired businessman Fred Hubbell — are more competitive with Reynolds than other Democrats in the race, but also indicates a high level of uncertainty and lingering unfamiliarity with the wide field of challengers. In a Reynolds-Boulton matchup, 41 percent of likely 2018 voters say they’d vote for Reynolds, compared to 37 percent for Boulton — a 4 percentage-point advantage. In a Reynolds-Hubbell matchup, 42 percent would opt for the incumbent while 37 percent would back the Democrat, a 5-point edge.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
House Adopts Rules to Curb Sexual Harassment - Roll Call

Trump religious adviser: ‘Jesus himself is our flu shot.’ - Politico

Trump creates National Vetting Center for screening immigrants - Fox News

AUDIBLE: HEADS UP 
Jesus lost a voice vote to Barabbas, MLK was assassinated, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was put to death, Abraham Lincoln lost more races than he won. How you conduct yourself matters. And we’re in a society and culture that values winning. Professional wrestling is really popular, cheating to win, getting away with committing penalties.” – Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., talking to Martha MacCallum about the public conduct of leaders and its consequences.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Hiya Chris, Brianna, and Dana - That, right there, might get your attention!  You all have, over the past few months, included questions, or statements I made in your fine Halftime Report, and I thank you for this, as well as your always relevant comments. … This afternoon I was in the house when a commercial came on - that was so uplifting - and to end her show, Dana had some things, every bit as good, and so positive. Both the commercial, and what Dana showed, and back to back, were impressive. I'm an ‘ole peddler,’ and my career was spent in high level sales of our product.  I found, early on, most people really need to be ‘cheered up,’ regardless of how I felt. So, that's what I did. And, as I cheered myself up, I found people I dealt with noticeably were also. Our people need, I think, a lot of ‘cheering up.’ By this, I do not mean making ‘happy, happy.’ ‘The Grand Experiment’ which our country was, and is - has never been equaled in history. Is it not, about time, to start educating our expanding population about this blessing? Is there some way, Fox News, and maybe, you three could influence starting to really push our positives? Maybe ‘feel good about our beloved America’ things on and off during viewing hours?” – Ernie Weaver, North Port, Fla.

[Ed. note: As the son of a salesman, I can tell you that I am definitely picking up what you are laying down, Mr. Weaver! And Dana does better than anyone I know in helping us always find a light to follow even in the darkest times. I have often talked about her “aggressive cheerfulness,” and I’m not kidding. The saying attributed to Abe Lincoln that “folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be” is darned well true, whoever first said it, and Dana’s subscription to it is just one of the many reasons why I love working with her. As for the good news about America: I believe that opinions are luxury items: Don’t have more than you can afford. As I continue the lifelong adventure of growing up, I find that I take dogmatic positions on fewer and fewer things. Not only is it unwise and unhappy to feel too strongly about too many topics, it's bad business for me. I need to be able to see politics and government from above the cloud cover, not down in the fog. That being said, the things that matter to me matter more and more with each passing year: Fewer passions more deeply held. One of those passions is a desperate need for civics education in America. It is a crisis of not just ignorance but confidence. Americans are being robbed of their inheritance because they are not being taught just how remarkable our nation is. Part of this relates to excessive revisionism to the hagiographic history that was taught 100 years ago. But a great deal of it is just lazy thinking. Americans are so careless with our republic because we tend to assume that its rise was a natural progression of civilization and that it is normal for this country to run as a perpetual motion machine, even when we abuse it.] 

“Chris and Brianna - In your February 6 Halftime Report you go into great detail with the Q-Poll on how partisans and independents feel about the current circus in DC stemming from the Russia Collusion Investigation and Congressional Investigation into FBI, DOJ and State Dept. What baffles me on a higher level is how the party apparatchiks are now obliged to choose one side or the other, no rational middle-ground and in fact now are switching ideologies as politics dictate.  Never before in my 52 years have I ever borne witness to Dems fighting against gov’t transparency and the GOP challenging surveillance warrants issued by the Federal Court system.  Seems like everyone has lost their collective minds.” – J. Waltner, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

[Ed. note: You said it! Partisanship is like peach brandy. A little bit of it can add flavor and fun. Too much of it will leave you with an aching head and empty pockets. What’s happening in American political life is that as partisanship intensifies, moderate voters flee both parties, which intensifies partisanship further, which causes more moderates to flee… We can’t know where this cycle ends. Is it an end to the two-party system or the replacement of one of the two parties or something heretofore unseen? Who knows. But what we do know is that it has always been a bad idea for Americans’ to surrender their own judgement and ideology for the sake of faction. As the old proverb goes: “Do right and fear no man.”]

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THE GOOD DAYCARES DO THREADING…
KREM: “Two young moms in the Tri-Cities (Washington) are accusing a daycare on the Columbia Basin College campus in Pasco of waxing their children's eyebrows. Both moms say their children appeared normal when dropped off on Thursday morning. Alyssa Salgado says she noticed the missing patch of hair after picking up her daughter Lilayiah that evening. ‘I, like, got a closer look and I saw she was missing her patch of hair because she has a unibrow and she was born like that.’ Salgado says she spoke to the daycare’s director that night and Friday morning about the missing hair. She's also reached out to other moms from the daycare, including Glenda Maria Cruz, who also claims her son's unibrow was waxed that same day.”

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.