Capital Journal: Trump and Pelosi Locked in Shutdown Feud; Where Is Mitch McConnell?

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What We’re Watching

Russia Probe: Lawmakers said they would investigate a BuzzFeed report that President Trump directed his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.

Congress: Lawmakers break for the Martin Luther King Day recess. The next votes in the House on spending aren’t expected until Tuesday.

State Department: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets in Washington with the vice chairman of the North Korean Workers’ Party Committee.

Government Shutdown

The standoff over the partial government shutdown has gotten personal. President Trump postponed use of a military plane for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to travel to Afghanistan, a day after she urged the president to delay his State of the Union address, Rebecca Ballhaus, Natalie Andrews and Peter Nicholas report.

Dueling nastygrams: Mrs. Pelosi and other lawmakers were set to depart on Thursday when Mr. Trump blocked the trip with a letter, his first formal response to the speaker’s letter a day earlier.

“Due to the shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan has been postponed.”

— Mr. Trump, in a letter to Mrs. Pelosi

The State Department is calling furloughed employees back to work. The department found money to pay all workers for at least two weeks. Whether they would be paid beyond that remains in question, Courtney McBride reports.

The shutdown has strained the White House’s ability to vet potential Democratic nominees for three financial regulatory postsreports Andrew Ackerman. Some consumer advocates fear the delays have deprived the agencies of liberal viewpoints.

Inside Look
U.S. and China

U.S. officials are debating whether Washington should ease off its tariffs on China. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin proposed the idea as a means to hasten a trade deal and calm jittery markets, Bob Davis in Washington and Lingling Wei report. But U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is concerned that any concession could be viewed as weakness.

  • If the U.S. and China don’t reach a deal by March 1, tariffs on $ 200 billion of Chinese goods are scheduled to jump to 25% from 10%.
  • As part of efforts to resolve trade disputes, the U.S. and China are also in talks to reopen China’s market to U.S. chicken exports.
Somalia Conflict

America’s other endless war: battling al-Shabaab in Somalia. The fight is one of the longest-running conflicts in U.S. history, simmering quietly for a dozen years in the desert landscape of the Horn of Africa, Michael M. Phillips reports. The death of Staff Sgt. Alex Conrad puts excruciating costs of the conflict into sharp relief.

Militants had killed Staff Sgt. Conrad at a rudimentary outpost that American Green Berets built with the Somali army. Hours after the sergeant’s death, the Somalis abandoned the outpost. The Green Beret commander frantically called a senior Somali official. “We lost lives there,” the Green Beret said. “It’s not acceptable to give it back.”

—Michael M. Phillips

National Security

The Army published a long-awaited study of the U.S. war in Iraq that criticizes decisions of some most senior officers.The two-volume study draws sharp conclusions about the U.S. failure to train Iraqi forces, the limitations of coalition warfare, and Washington’s inability to deter Iran and Syria from giving sanctuary and support to militant groups, Michael R. Gordon reports.

Mr. Trump called for an expanded and more sophisticated U.S. missile-defense system. The plan calls for new, more flexible systems to defend against hypersonic missiles, as well as space-based sensors to detect hostile or accidental launches, Gordon Lubold and Courtney McBride report.

Islamic State is reverting to the guerrilla-style tactics it employed in its early days as it stands to lose its last sliver of territory. U.S.-backed forces in Syria vowed to escalate military operations and root out its sleeper cells, Raja Abdulrahim reports. On Friday, the Pentagon identified three of the four Americans who were killed in an attack in Syria.

Political Intelligence

GOP Divisions Emerge Over Trump’s Foreign Policy

By Andrew Duehren

Republicans remain in line behind President Trump through the longest government shutdown in modern U.S. history, but there are signs of division emerging in familiar territory: foreign policy.

Two events this week—the easing of sanctions on a Russian aluminum company and the death of four Americans in Syria at the hands of the Islamic State—reinforced that a significant slice of the Republican Party remains skeptical of the Trump administration’s foreign policy.

The Treasury Department this week removed sanctions from a trio of Russian companies connected to an oligarch close to the Kremlin. A Democratic-led Senate effort to block the delisting fell short of the chamber’s 60 vote threshold on Wednesday, though 11 Republican senators crossed party lines to support the measure. In the House on Thursday, 136 Republicans voted for a measure disapproving of removing the companies from the sanctions list, and it overwhelmingly passed.

To escape the American sanctions, the Russian companies restructured to reduce the ownership stake of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, though the bipartisan critics of the move argue the companies remain too close to Moscow. One of the companies, United Co. Rusal PLC, plays a major role in the global aluminum supply, and several European allies have warned that leaving it subject to the sanctions could disrupt their access to the metal.

The death of four Americans in Syria has also added to Republicans’ concerns about the Trump administration’s effort to end the U.S. presence in the region.

“The minute we take pressure off these groups, they grow and they begin to strike,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.). “If in a year from now they’re waving black flags and cutting heads again on YouTube, then we would have to go back in, which would be the worst possible outcome for the President, for the country.”

Foreign policy questions rarely create political firestorms the way domestic issues like building a wall along the southern border can. But the large-scale defections are a sign that anxiety about the Trump administration’s foreign policy has only grown since Jim Mattis’s resignation as Defense secretary.

Write to Andrew Duehren at

Health and Economy

The secret to Utah’s economic success: The state has had the fastest-growing labor force of any U.S. state since January 2010—a key ingredient for economic growth and one that provides an example for the nation, Sarah Chaney and Sharon Nunn report. The state is reaping the benefits of perennially high birthrates strong strong rates of migration from other states and countries.

The Trump administration proposed changes that could raise health insurance costsreports Stephanie Armour. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also signaled that it is reviewing automatic re-enrollment for consumers with plans on the the federal health exchanges, a move that could significantly reduce enrollment.

  • Here are the steps the administration has taken to undermine the health law since Republicans in Congress failed to repeal it.
What We’re Reading
  • Debate about whether Democrats’ leadership is too old is likely to get more heated in the coming year. (CNN)
  • The young progressives rising to power in the Democratic party want to change U.S. policies of support for Israel. (BuzzFeed)
  • Criticism of Karen Pence, wife of the vice president, for taking a job teaching at a Christian school shows an intolerance of religious pluralism. (National Review)
About Us

This newsletter is a production of the WSJ Washington bureau. Our newsletter editors are Tim Hanrahan, Kate Milani, Troy McCullough and Daniel Nasaw. Send feedback to

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