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On the roster: The Senate goes to Gobblers Knob - Unfinished business for Bernie, Warren after debate - Trump inks trade truce with China - #Catitude

When we say that the impeachment and Senate trial of President Trump is like Groundhog Day we do not mean the wonderful, philosophical film starring Bill Murray, even though days seem to be repeating themselves.

We mean the actual Feb. 2 celebration in which, as Murray’s character, Phil Connors, put it, the residents of Punxsutawney, Pa. experience “the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.”

Any groundhog true believers should avert their eyes, but it doesn’t really matter what the current incarnation of Punxsutawney Phil “says” next month about the duration of winter. The point of the day, which was given to us by German immigrants looking for a good reason to celebrate in a cold northeastern February, is the event itself.

The point is the big funny hats and the hokey, jokey ceremoniousness. The point is thousands of people who come to party, often in the freezing cold, at Gobblers Knob. The point is the event that grew up around the world’s most famous whistle pig, not the rodent’s forecast (which has about a 25 percent accuracy rate).

As Jack Matson, a county commissioner for Punxsutawney’s Jefferson County, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “It’s really the coolest event on the planet, because it’s so stupid.” 

Which, of course, brings us back to the trial of Trump.

Readers of this note are well acquainted with our diatribes against American government’s woeful imbalance. The Framers’ vision was remarkable in its foresight, but even they lacked the imagination to conceive of a time when the first branch of government would intentionally reduce its own power.

Consider the current debate over presidential war powers. There is overwhelming consensus that it is absurd for the American president to be exercising military powers under a shopworn, two-decade-old authorization for the use of force. But that’s not the president’s fault. That’s the fault of a Congress that refuses to legislate, particularly on issues that are controversial.

What members of Congress in both parties prefer to do are things everyone likes – spending more money without raising taxes – and things that half of the people like but which can be used as a political weapon – the dreaded “optics.”

Once upon a time, members of Congress were concerned about accomplishing things so that they could go home to their districts and make persuasive arguments about all that they had done and all the advantages they had brought to the fine citizens of North Raccoon Paw County or wherever.

Now what they want to do is try to inflict political harm on the other side. If you’re not going to do your duty, you might as well try to get on TV and dunk on the other side.

Once, it would have been almost obscene for a lawmaker to talk openly about the intended political consequences of an action. Now, it’s the norm. When Kevin McCarthy once bragged about staging hearings on the deaths of Americans in Libya to bring down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers it was considered shocking. Now it’s the norm.

Democrats were certainly within their rights and powers to impeach Trump, but at no point has there been any serious chance that Trump would be removed from office. Even the considerable number of Senate Republicans who agree that Trump did what he is accused of doing don’t agree with Democrats that he should be removed from office.

That’s all been obvious since the start. That doesn’t mean that Democrats were wrong to impeach or that the Senate would be wrong to acquit. It just means that this has been a mostly symbolic effort from the start, which is fine… up to a point.

We have now endured many weeks of public argument over the “optics” of the always-inevitable Senate trial. And since the outcome is pre-ordained, the point of the argument is to decide which side will have the chance to inflict the most political damage on the other through the proceedings.

One side wants to dangle the son of the Democratic presidential front-runner like a piñata. The other side wants to use the trial to investigate charges the House was too politically anxious to take time to explore before it voted to impeach.

Given that our Capitol has over the past few decades turned into the world’s most elaborate reality show set, it’s understandable that members would be thinking about how to extract political advantage from the upcoming episodes.

Too bad for them that the old gimmicks don’t work anymore. Voters’ political attitudes have hardened to such a degree that almost nothing seems to change the toplines. In the old days, a major strike against Iran or an impeachment or a big trade deal would have major effects on public opinion. Now, almost nothing seems to break through.

And you can’t blame voters. They’re not here for the groundhog’s forecast anymore, they just want to see the spectacle.

“Ingratitude is a common topic of declamation against human nature; and it must be confessed that instances of it are but too frequent and flagrant, both in public and in private life. But the universal and extreme indignation which it inspires is itself a proof of the energy and prevalence of the contrary sentiment.” – Alexander Hamilton or James MadisonFederalist No. 57

Smithsonian: “In Michael Levin’s laboratory at Tufts University, cells can expect to find themselves in unusual company. Here, the precursors of frog skin sidle up to cells that, in another life, might have helped an amphibian’s heartbeat. They’re perfect strangers: biological entities that, up until this point, had no business being together. And yet, Levin and his colleagues have found that skin cells and heart cells can be coaxed into coalescing. Placed side by side, they will self-organize into intricate, three-dimensional mosaics of frog cells that aren’t actually frogs. Designed by a computer algorithm and surgically shaped by human hands, these skin-heart hybrids, each roughly the size of a grain of sand, don’t resemble anything found in nature. But the tasks they accomplish are eerily familiar: Without any external input, they can zoom around Petri dishes, push microscopic objects to and fro, and even stitch themselves back together after being cut.”

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Biden: 25.6 points (↓ 0.6 points from last wk.)
Sanders: 17.8 points (↓ 0.8 points from last wk.)
Warren: 16.6 points (↑ 0.4 points from last wk.)
Buttigieg: 8.4 points (↓ 1 point from last wk.)
Bloomberg: 5.6 points (↑ 0.4 points from last wk.)
[Averages include: Quinnipiac University, IBD, NBC News/WSJ, CNN and USA Today/Suffolk University.]

Average approval: 43.2 percent
Average disapproval: 52.4 percent
Net Score: -9.2 percent
Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.6 points
[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 42% approve - 53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 43% approve - 52% disapprove; IBD: 43% approve - 51% disapprove; NBC/WSJ: 44% approve - 54% disapprove; CNN: 44% approve - 52% disapprove.]

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NYT: “After nearly an hour, the question that progressives had been fearing finally arrived. Senator Bernie Sanders laughed. Senator Elizabeth Warren did not. ‘I didn’t say it,’ Mr. Sanders insisted, with Ms. Warren turning his way, as he denied her explosive account that he told her privately in 2018 that a woman could not win the presidency. ‘Bernie is my friend,’ Ms. Warren replied firmly, disputing his memory, ‘and I am not here to try and fight with Bernie. But, look, this question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised and it’s time for us to attack it head-on.’ All through this Democratic primary, voters have worried aloud about the thorny subject of electability, wondering if a woman — even a woman they might support — would be able to defeat President Trump. In her exchange with Mr. Sanders on Tuesday, Ms. Warren hoped to turn the issue on its head, noting that of all those onstage, only the women, Ms. Warren and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, had won all of their major elections and later observing that the party’s success in the 2018 midterms was powered largely by female candidates and voters.”

John Harris: Democrats take a walk on the mild side - Politico: “It was not that the CNN/Des Moines Register debate on the campus of Drake University was necessarily bad. But most of the dynamics on display were familiar — as in, very familiar — in ways that evidently suited the candidates’ interests in staying safe but also seemed to challenge the basic theory of the officially sanctioned Democratic National Committee debate schedule. This was the seventh debate since last summer, and the last before the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses. At least as I understood the hypothesis, the gradually rising thresholds to qualify for the debate stage — six candidates this time compared with 20 over two nights at the first encounter last June — would replace the historic role of early-state voting in winnowing the field and clarifying the race. It is true that the field has been winnowed, but it’s hardly clear that electrifying debate moments along the way have played that big a role.”

Biden holds on in Nevada - Reno Gazette Journal: “Former Vice President Joe Biden's long-standing lead in Nevada may be starting to evaporate, with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders now polling within a point of the frontrunner, according to a recent Suffolk University/Reno Gazette Journal survey. Of 500 likely Democratic caucusgoers surveyed in the poll released Tuesday, 19 percent indicated support for Biden and 18 percent supported Sanders, who overtook U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren for second place. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percent. Warren saw the single greatest decline in support since the last RGJ poll in September, slipping from 19 percent to 11 percent. As Warren's popularity dropped, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer each saw a surge of support among those polled. Both men jumped from 3 percent in the September poll to 8 percent in the most recent survey.”

Team Trump focused on Bernie, Bloomy - NYT: “President Trump’s advisers see Senator Bernie Sanders as their ideal Democratic opponent in November and have been doing what they can to elevate his profile and bolster his chances of winning the Iowa caucuses, according to Republicans familiar with the plans. But their new focus on Mr. Sanders, independent of Vermont, comes at a time the president himself has been closely watching Michael R. Bloomberg, a late arrival to the Democratic primary race, unnerved by his campaign spending and his suggestion he might spend $1 billion of his own fortune on opposing Mr. Trump, even if he does not emerge as the nominee. … Neither is the national front-runner, but Mr. Sanders is believed to have gained significant ground in Iowa, and both are on the minds of the president and his team.”

DNC reports they outraised RNC, Trump by $100 million in 2019 - ABC News: “The Democratic presidential field and the Democratic National Committee together raked in a total of about $580 million in 2019, surpassing President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee's combined total of about $463 million by more than $100 million, according to a DNC spokesperson. The eye-popping fundraising total from the Democratic Party comes out just before six leading Democratic presidential candidates were set to take the stage for another debate in Des Moines, Iowa. The DNC will report bringing in $28 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, closing out the entire year with over $95 million. The total includes money raised through the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee between the national and state parties launched in 2018, according to the DNC spokesperson.”

WaPo: “President Trump on Wednesday signed a partial trade deal with China, securing a promise that Beijing will purchase specific amounts of U.S. goods and services while retaining many of the import penalties he put in place over the past two years. The 86-page agreement, which comes after a tense standoff between both nations, marks a major shift in the ‘free trade’ approach that past presidents have sought. Instead, Trump has attempted to lock in specific commitments from China’s government in a move away from a markets-based approach. ‘Today we take a momentous step, one that has never been taken before with China, towards a future of fair and reciprocal trade,’ Trump said. He called it a ‘sea change in international trade.’ At the signing, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He read a letter from Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who said the deal reflects ‘mutual respect’ between the two countries. The letter said Xi hoped the U.S. would ‘treat fairly’ Chinese companies that attempt to do business with U.S. firms.”

Pelosi announces house impeachment managers - Fox News

Bloomy shares plan for energy efficient buildings - WaPo

Yang talks race Politico

“Maybe this is naïve, but I was hoping they would ignore this infighting and focus on policy. Now I’m really worried.” – Nicole Margheim, a senior at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, discussing the Warren, Bernie feud per Politico. Margheim backed Sanders in 2016, but is currently uncommitted for 2020.

“Chris, It would be extremely helpful to me if you could add an interpretation at the end of your rule book section. The old time language or perhaps my own ignorance prevents me from understanding what is said.” – Roy Meyer, Eagle, Idaho

[Ed. note: This is certainly a question that we give a great deal of thought to on a regular basis, Mr. Meyer. On the one hand, we want to make the Federalists’ words accessible to present-day readers. On the other hand, we don’t want to get in the way by introducing our own interpretations and subjective insights. We’re usually more comfortable engaging in exegesis – reading out of the original text for its relevancy to the world today – than eisegesis – reading modern interpretations into the original text. But we will be careful to read carefully and make sure that whenever we can clarify without harming the authors’ intent we do so.]

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Time: “There’s nothing better than when the underdog comes out on top. Or, in this case, undercat. That’s exactly what happened during a recent showdown between a particularly plucky house cat and three coyotes outside a home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park. Footage captured by a security camera shows Max the cat fending off the trio of larger attackers as they attempt to gang up on him in the alley behind his house. Max, for one, wasn’t having any of it. ‘He’s always been crazy,’ Max’s owner, Maya Gurrin, told CBS Los Angeles. ‘Like if this were to happen with any cat, it would be him.’ Gurrin added that Max’s time as a freewheeling outdoors cat has now come to an end. But she said that she’s planning on building him an outside enclosure so he can still get some fresh air without being in danger of ambushes by wild animals.”

“Dominance is [Trump’s] game. Doesn’t matter if you backed him, as did Chris Christie, cast out months ago. Or if you opposed him, as did Mitt Romney, before whom Trump ostentatiously dangled the State Department, only to snatch it away, leaving Romney looking the foolish supplicant.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on July 27, 2017.

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.