Welcome to Bosch’s infernal barbeque

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On the roster: Welcome to Bosch’s infernal barbeque - Harris’s huge haul a sign of grassroots support - GOP to focus on small-dollar online fundraising - Judge denies GOP plea in contested House race - Start small with a skateboard, work your way up 


Someone – a young woman it seems like – is speaking directly to her audience. The hallway is dark and so cavernous that her hushed but urgent words are almost swallowed entirely by background noise.

“It is him!” she says. “He’s here!” We don’t know her name, her job or if the Twitter account is hers, but she is definitely acting in role of roving reporter.  

Suddenly the screen is awash in blinding light. Then the retina adjusts and it becomes clear that she is outside the entrance to the House Chamber. The pale marble here, the flash of bright color on the walls through an open door over there. And it is him, indeed. Standing at the center of a great throng of beefy bodyguards and attendants, clad in a long black topcoat, chin jutted up, arms crossed. President Trump.

There on the other side is the Paul Irving, the House sergeant at arms. He’s former FBI, former Secret Service. He knows some of the guys in the president’s detail. He also obviously seems to want to end this showdown as quickly and quietly as possible. Behind him, writhing like the afflicted souls in a Hieronymus Bosch painting, are House Democrats.

It’s hard to hear amid all the clatter and din – louder now as other spectators, phones held over their heads crowd into the cramped hallway – but you can just make out Irving saying clearly, calmly “No visitor will be admitted to the floor of the House of Representatives without the invitation of the speaker…” A man in the front of president’s posse is repeating “We have an invitation…” 

Just then, our guide says “I’m going to try to get closer…” And the screen goes black. That’s it.

Once, a scene like that would have been good for a Charles McCarry novel, but a practical impossibility. But, as bizarre as it sounds, we now have the threat of an actual confrontation between the executive and legislative branches over the venue of a speech. And let’s face it, millions of Americans are thirsty for it. In the reality-show melodrama of our current politics, it would be the kind of moment that could be gnawed over for days. The heat from all of the takes would be enough to melt steel. 

“The real bullies are in the mainstream media…”; “Echoes of the Reichstag fire…”; “It’s an intentional distraction…”; and blah, blah, blah.   

Billions of clicks. 

Where we stand right now is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited Trump to address a joint session of Congress one week from today. But last week wrote him “to suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened” or for Trump to simply follow the convention of the 19th century and deliver his report in writing alone.

She didn’t disinvite him, but who would show up for an event without first contacting the host after a letter like that? You know who…

The White House now says that the president’s plans are unchanged, and officials are making preparations for his visit and speech. This would be like if you asked your neighbor over for a cookout but then sent him a text saying you needed to reschedule but he showed up with a cooler full of Lime-A-Ritas anyway. 

What would you do? Let him in, fire up the grill and throw on a couple of hotdogs you found in the fridge? Plead with him to come back another time? Order him off your porch, scolding him for such effrontery? Turn off the lights and sit silently in the dark until he left?    

Some context may be helpful here. There is no such animal at the “State of the Union Address” in the law or Constitution. It is, like the post-inaugural luncheon for the new president hosted by the Senate or the White House Easter Egg Roll, a longstanding tradition.

But that tradition has mostly been one crafted by television coverage over the past 56 years. 

The Constitution does require that the president will “from time to time give to Congress information of the state of the union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” 

The charter also grants the president the authority “on extraordinary occasions” to call Congress into a special session, a power which has been employed many times. The chief executive may also resolve a dispute between the houses of Congress over adjournment by dismissing them both until “such time as he shall think proper,” a power no president has ever used.  

The purpose of what would come to be known as the State of the Union Address under Franklin Roosevelt is part of the president’s limited role in the legislative process. He is explicitly given permission to suggest new laws and explicitly mandated to make himself accountable to Congress about the condition of the nation.

But there’s no requirement of a speech of any kind, and from Thomas Jefferson through William Taft, presidents abjured. Woodrow Wilson, perhaps the greatest enthusiast for an autocratic presidency in our history, revived the practice. Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge each did it one time, Herbert Hoover none at all.

It was F.D.R., an able showman and master of new media, who annualized and standardized the practice. Whatever else it was, it was a marvelous piece of radio theater.

But for the next three presidents, the event was more of a low-key affair. Harry TrumanDwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy took the ride down Pennsylvania Avenue for what had become the kickoff of the winter legislative session. Think of chummy remarks with chicken salad and watercress sandwiches to follow.

But in 1964 the tradition changed again to a close approximation of what we know today. Lyndon Johnson was running for a full term of his own just two months after the assassination of Kennedy. Johnson, the master of the Senate, disciple of FDR and craving the stamp of legitimacy, staged a primetime television spectacle. 

There is much that is dubious, even dire, about Johnson’s legacy. But this tradition would have to be included in his list of misdeeds. For nearly six decades, Americans have been subjected to endless platitudes, jack-in-the-box standing ovations, groaningly predictable discussions and about 30 minutes of watching people shake hands with each other.

But now our partisanship and pettiness is so extreme that even this banality may not survive. In an era of declining institutions, it’s frankly surprising that this stuffed turkey has survived intact so long. But we may have reached the end.

The White House says there’s a plan B under which the president would give a speech on the previously appointed day but somewhere other than the House Chamber. Of course the president can give a speech whenever, wherever he likes. He can even call it the State of the Union Address.

But the guy with the Lime-A-Ritas could also set up a folding chair on the sidewalk across from your house and say that he was at your barbeque. 

In truth, whether Trump confronts Pelosi, stages an alternative event or does something else entirely, the concept as we’ve known it since LBJ is right now headed for an ugly demise. 

That’s probably a good thing in a number of ways. But it will also stand in history as evidence of the same problem that currently has the government doing all manner of damage to individuals, the economy and decent conduct over a $3.1 billion squabble in a $5 trillion federal government – one more waystation on the road to partisan perdition.  

“Roads will everywhere be shortened, and kept in better order; accommodations for travelers will be multiplied and meliorated; an interior navigation on our eastern side will be opened throughout, or nearly throughout, the whole extent of the thirteen States.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 14

Fox News: “The remains of a small prehistoric shark that lived during the age of dinosaurs 67 million years ago have been found, to the surprise of scientists and onlookers alike, according to a new study. Fossilized shark teeth were discovered in what is now modern-day South Dakota and were found in the same deposits as Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex… The freshwater shark had odd triangle-shaped teeth and, due to its resemblance to the spaceships in the 1980s video game ‘Galaga,’ it's been dubbed Galagadon nordquistae. … Contrary to the imagination of young children and B-movie screenwriters everywhere, the shark was not looking to eat T. rex or any other dinosaur, for that matter. … ‘This wasn't some Sharknado event--these animals were making their way up rivers from the sea,’ [co-author of the study Pete Makovicky] said in the release… [Terry Gates, the study's lead author] said the discovery of Galagadon will help researchers learn more [about] the Cretaceous period…”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
39.8 percent
Average disapproval: 55.6 percent
Net Score: -15.8 points
Change from one week ago: up 0.2 points
[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 40% approve - 54% disapprove; Pew: 39% approve - 58% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve - 55% disapprove; CNN: 37% approve - 57% disapprove; IBD: 42% approve - 54% disapprove.]       

WSJ: “Sen. Kamala Harris raised $1.5 million from 38,000 donors online in the 24 hours after announcing her presidential run Monday morning, her campaign said. The California Democrat saw a burst of $1 million in contributions in the first 12 hours after her appearance on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ and the simultaneous release of an online video, her campaign said, adding that the average donation was about $37. Those initial donation numbers are competitive with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign kickoff. His team said at the time that he raised $1.5 million from 35,000 donors in the first 24 hours after his April 30, 2015, announcement. Mr. Sanders, who ultimately raised 85% of his $238 million in increments of $200 or less, is weighing another presidential run. Democrats have put a premium on grass-roots fundraising ahead of the 2020 campaign, with the Democratic National Committee planning to include some kind of small-money metric in its debate qualifications.”

Iowa prepares for the biggest caucuses yet - Politico: “Bracing for record turnout and fearful of a repeat of the chaos that marred the 2016 caucuses, Iowa Democrats are racing to implement some of the most significant changes in the history of the first-in-the-nation event. The party is shopping for larger facilities to fit expected overflow crowds, investing in new technology to stave off check-in and head-counting snafus and pushing individual 2020 campaigns to create their own voter registration programs. And to abide by new rules set out by the national party, Iowa Democrats are even studying the possibility of what once would have been unthinkable: ‘Tele-caucusing,’ which would allow absentee voting by phone or possibly online for any Democrat who couldn’t make it on caucus day.”

South Carolina presents opportunity for Dems - NYT: “…at a time when President Trump has stoked racial divisions and black voters have become an increasingly crucial Democratic constituency, South Carolina is already looming larger at the outset of this race than in any recent Democratic nominating contest. ‘It’s hard to construct a scenario where South Carolina is not the gateway to the nomination,’ said David Plouffe, former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, describing it as a springboard into the most delegate-rich day of the primary and a proving ground for who can appeal to black voters. …  This state is poised to play an outsized role in 2020 because of a confluence of demography and timing. South Carolina will be the first contest in which a majority of those casting ballots will be African-American.”

Steyer pushes for 2020 Dems to join his impeachment efforts - Atlantic:Tom Steyer is launching an effort to make every Democrat campaigning to run against President Donald Trump first come out in support of impeachment. Volunteers from Steyer’s organization, Need to Impeach, already showed up at several of Elizabeth Warren’s events on her first swing through Iowa earlier in the month and tried to pin her down on impeachment. Soon, Steyer’s team will expand that effort as other candidates swing through the early-voting states. More is in the works, as the San Francisco–based billionaire and impeachment activist promises to put in another $40 million, on top of the $50 million he invested last year, to turn his list of 7 million people who’ve signed his online petition to impeach Trump into a ‘force on the ground’ for pressing the issue.”

Politico: “President Donald Trump’s political team and top Republican officials have reached a landmark agreement to reshape the party’s fundraising apparatus and close the financial gap that devastated them in the midterms. With the deal, Republicans hope to create a rival to ActBlue, the Democratic online fundraising behemoth that plowed over $700 million in small-dollar donations into Democratic coffers in the 2018 campaign. Republicans have had no comparable centralized platform to cultivate small dollars. … Following weeks of closed-door discussions, Republicans have agreed to create a new platform dubbed Patriot Pass, which will be used to cultivate and process online donations. The GOP — whose jungle-like ecosystem of vendors has long fought bitterly over contracts and dollars — has struggled in the past to create such a unified system.”

RNC to vote on resolution to reaffirm support for Trump this week - WashEx: “The Republican National Committee this week will likely vote on a resolution reaffirming support for President Trump as some quarters of the party consider initiating a challenge to his leadership in the 2020 primary. An RNC member suggested in an email circulated to colleagues on Monday afternoon that a resolution he is proposing has received the blessing of GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. Jevon Williams, of the U.S. Virgin Islands, said he worked with senior RNC staff to amend his proposal to satisfy various concerns. Williams is urging fellow RNC members to support the resolution when they gather Wednesday through Friday for their annual winter meeting, saying failure to do so would send a message that the national party is not fully behind Trump at a critical moment in the 2020 election cycle.”

Stefanik focuses on recruiting female GOP House candidates - The Hill: “Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) is looking to recruit and elect more Republican women to Congress through her leadership political action committee, as the GOP grapples with winning back the suburban, moderate voters who left the party in 2018. To get there, Stefanik's group, E-PAC, is making strides to reach the high-dollar fundraising and massive network of Democratic women's groups like EMILY’s List. That is an area where Republicans have traditionally come up short, but one they are seeking to emulate this cycle. … Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) who initially appeared to butt heads with Stefanik on her efforts to attract women candidates to Republican primaries, heaped praise on her and offered to help ‘to the extent we can.’”

WSOC-TV: “A North Carolina judge says there aren't grounds to step in and declare victory for the Republican in the country's last undecided congressional race amid an investigation into whether his lead was boosted by illegal vote-collection tactics. Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by Republican Mark Harris insisting he be declared the winner. Harris' attorneys asked the judge to step in because they said the 9th congressional district urgently needs a representative in Washington, D.C. Harris narrowly leads Democrat Dan McCready in the contest, but the numbers have been clouded by doubt due to allegations that mail-in ballots could have been altered or discarded by a Harris subcontractor. The state elections board was disbanded by an unrelated court order last month, and a new one takes over in nine days. Ridgeway said Tuesday that he's unclear why Harris' lawyers insist he decides the winner when he doesn't know what investigators found.”

Giuliani on Trump: ‘Even If He Did Do It, It Wouldn’t Be a Crime” - New Yorker

Pergram: ‘Partial government shutdown: If anyone knows how it'll end, it's Tony Romo’ - Fox News

Check out this profile: ‘Mitch McConnell Got Everything He Wanted. But at What Cost?’ - NYT

Sen. Angus King begins radiation treatment for prostate cancer - Roll Call

“I really wish @tonyromo would just tell us when the shutdown is going to end.” – Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tweeted. Tony Romo has been receiving praise for his on point commentating during the AFC championship game.

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WTAE: “Pittsburgh police are investigating an attempted armed carjacking that ended with the alleged carjacker giving up and running away on Shetland Street in the Larimer/Lincoln-Lemington area. Police said that on January 16th around 5:35 p.m., a 20-year-old man said he had stopped at his house to drop off food for his grandmother and had left his friend waiting inside his running vehicle. The gunman approached as the driver ran into the house. According to police, the gunman then ordered the victim's friend, who was still waiting inside the vehicle, to get out of the car. Police said the alleged carjacker repeatedly revved the engine to drive off, however was ‘apparently unfamiliar with how cars work, because the vehicle was in park the whole time.’ The man gave up and fled on foot.”

“So I’d never mess with it. If a placebo can alleviate your pain, that’s better than opioids. If going gluten-free gives a spring to your step, why not? But please, let the civility go both ways. Let the virtuous Fitbit foodie, all omega-3’d and gluten-free, drop the self-congratulatory smugness. And I promise not to say it’s all in his head.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on Dec. 24, 2015.

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.