Dems edge toward unity on an immigration plan

Sen. Kamala Harris is pictured. | Getty Images

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) would support the McCain-Coons bill, her spokesman said Tuesday. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

But the proposal has little chance of being passed by the Senate.

Senate Democrats are starting to get behind a bipartisan immigration plan that could win over reluctant activists on the left — offering a chance for the party to coalesce after struggling for months to craft a workable strategy.

Democratic leaders on Tuesday sought a vote on a plan from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) that would create a path to citizenship for more than 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. It would also boost border security though without funding the border wall sought by President Donald Trump.

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That approach is already a no-go with Trump and many Republican senators, but Democratic leaders are hopeful it will help set the terms of debate.

Some on the party’s left flank were open to the approach on Tuesday, even as others held out for a compromise that is more likely to win the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), one of several influential liberals who vowed to oppose funding the government absent a fix for the immigrants known as Dreamers, would support the McCain-Coons bill, her spokesman said Tuesday.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a vocal Dreamer advocate, also expects to back the McCain-Coons approach and counseled activists on the left to be open to compromise.

“I appreciate what Dreamers want — what I want is to guarantee that their dreams can be realized, and I’m going to look for a pathway to make that happen,” Menendez said.

“I don’t think anybody needs a Pyrrhic victory. We need 60 votes.”

After imploring Democrats to insist on tying aid for Dreamers to a must-pass legislative vehicle, a tactic that helped push the government into a three-day shutdown last month, liberal groups have stayed more muted on immigration so far this week. Activists on the left have focused their grassroots energy on forcing a vote on legislation known as the DREAM Act that only offers a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, leaving little room for compromise on border security.

More than 250 liberal, labor, and civil rights groups released a letter Tuesday that outlines what they couldn’t support in a Senate bill, including multiple components of the White House framework, but its parameters didn’t rule out the McCain-Coons proposal. United We Dream, the activist group formed by and for Dreamers, criticized enforcement provisions in the McCain-Coons plan last week but stopped short of withholding its support.

“That is the only thing short of clean DREAM [Act] that any of us would expect,” one leading liberal organizer said, referring to activists on the left. “We’d rather Dems walk away than accept anything beyond that.”

It remains unclear if the McCain-Coons bill will even get a vote on the floor, as Senate leaders in both parties continue to clash over the terms for a debate that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to wrap up this week.

And despite the proposal’s potential to finally bring Democrats together on immigration, some in the caucus are still undecided. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wouldn’t commit to backing the measure on Tuesday, but said it will merit strong consideration. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said that she first wants to see what sort of plan emerges from talks between a bipartisan group of mostly moderate senators.

“I think that’s probably the best bet,” she said in an interview. Duckworth said Democrats had “a very healthy debate” during their weekly caucus lunch Tuesday but had not yet united around a single plan.

That absence of a consensus within a party that clamored for time to debate the issue left Republicans befuddled.

“When you think about Democrats and DACA, think about Republicans and Obamacare,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Tuesday. “They know what they’re against, but don’t know what they are for.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats have also struggled to formulate an immigration strategy since more than one-third of the caucus — 73 members — broke rank and voted for the budget deal last week. The House version of the McCain-Coons plan is authored by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a Democratic target in November’s election, and Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.).

Those Democrats defied requests from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and others in leadership to vote against the bill. But Pelosi was sending mixed messages ahead of the vote, telling colleagues why she was opposing the plan while also touting it as a “good” bill and highlighting the Democratic priorities in the proposal.

For Democratic lawmakers who had been fighting most ardently for Dreamers, the budget vote was a huge blow in which Democrats single-handedly gave away all of their leverage to drive House action on immigration.

“There were three leverage points at the very beginning — there was the budget and the [spending] caps. And there was the lifting of the debt ceiling and that’s already included,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) “And the third one was disaster relief.”

All three issues were resolved in the budget deal.

Now House Democrats appear to be following a “hold your breath and hope” strategy. With little, if any, leverage at this point to force Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to take action, they’re relying on a risky combination: hope the Senate passes something and public pressure compels Ryan to act.

“Our leverage, frankly, is that we’re representing the overwhelming opinion of the American people. That ought to be a pretty strong impetus in the people’s House,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “And I would hope that Speaker Ryan would want to reflect that view of the American people.”

But Ryan faces his own internal dissent from a rebellious group of conservatives who are all to happy to remind the speaker that he promised never to bring an immigration bill to the floor that didn’t have the support of a majority of Republicans. And Ryan has been loath to commit to any immigration bill, other than to say he would bring up for a vote whatever Trump supports — a moving target at best.

As Democrats continued to grasp for a unifying strategy, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus wrote to Senate leaders Tuesday calling for a narrow fix that secures deportation protections for Dreamers and border security funding — essentially the McCain-Coons approach.

Burgess Everett and Ted Hesson contributed to this report.

CORRECTION: Rep. Pete Aguilar’s home state was listed incorrectly in an earlier version of this article.

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Corker edges closer to reelection bid

Sen. Bob Corker is pictured. | Getty Images

After a person close to Sen. Bob Corker said the senator was “listening” to those imploring him to run again. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Bob Corker is inching closer to ditching his retirement plans and running for reelection.

After a person close to the Tennessee Republican said Monday the senator was “listening” to those imploring him to run again, Corker’s team went further on Tuesday, acknowledging he is reconsidering his decision to call it quits after two terms.

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“In recent days, people across Tennessee have reached out to Senator Corker with concerns about the outcome of this election because they believe it could determine control of the Senate and the future of our agenda. The senator has been encouraged to reconsider his decision and is listening closely,” said Micah Johnson, a spokeswoman for the senator.

Corker faces a tough fight if he chooses to get back in. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has put up strong fundraising and poll numbers in a primary that Corker ostensibly left last fall amid a feud with President Donald Trump.

Blackburn’s campaign has indicated she’s unlikely to leave the race if Corker reenters it. Some Republicans fear Blackburn could lose to Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen and that Corker would be a stronger general election candidate.

But Blackburn’s campaign insists that’s nonsense.

“Anyone who thinks Marsha Blackburn can’t win a general election is just a plain sexist pig,” said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for Blackburn. “She’s the best fundraiser in the country and is beating Phil Bredesen in several polls. We aren’t worried about these ego-driven, tired old men. Marsha has spent her whole life fighting people who told her she wasn’t good enough and she will do it again.”

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Trump, Pence honor African-American military service for Black History Month

President Donald Trump is pictured. | AP Photo

President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a National African American History Month reception in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 13. | Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday highlighted contributions from African-American military personnel throughout U.S. history in a commemoration of Black History Month.

Delivering remarks during a reception at the White House, Trump cited the administration’s theme for the annual observance — “African-Americans in Times of War” — in praising the influence of black military service in shaping the country.

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“African-Americans have fought courageously in every war since the Revolution,” Trump told attendees. “Long before our nation righted the wrongs of slavery and segregation, African-Americans gave their hearts, their sweat, their blood and their very lives to defend the United States, its flag and its highest ideals. Thank you.”

He added: “The very proud history of African-Americans serving our country in uniform began way back in our nation’s founding.”

The president was flanked at the event by Surgeon General Jerome Adams, an African-American anesthesiologist who in June was nominated by Trump to become the 20th person to serve in the leading role of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

The president again touted progress in reducing African-American unemployment at the event, a feat he prominently mentioned during his State of the Union address last month.

“It was just announced — and perhaps you heard me say it — we had the lowest African-American unemployment rate in the history of our country,” Trump said. “We are very, very proud of that.”

Black employment dropped to 6.8 percent in December, the lowest level recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics since it began tracking the measure in 1972. But the figure ticked up to 7.7 percent in January, the largest single-month increase in years.

Vice President Mike Pence marked Black History Month earlier on Tuesday by visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which he called “hallowed ground” and hailed as a reminder of the United States’ “difficult past.”

“This has been a payment of a debt of gratitude to Americans who, since before our nation’s founding, have contributed mightily,” Pence said during an address to attendees.

The vice president said it was “deeply humbling” to deliver remarks at the museum to commemorate Black History Month, and also noted African-Americans’ long history of military service.

“It truly is amazing,” Pence said, “to think about the contributions of African-Americans in the uniform of the United States.”

Elizabeth Castillo contributed to this report.

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Trump taps Army cyber chief as next NSA head

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Morale at the NSA has reportedly suffered in recent years amid a series of bombshell leaks of the clandestine agency’s most secret hacking tools. | Getty

President Donald Trump on Tuesday nominated Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, the leader of the Army’s digital warfighting arm, to helm the National Security Agency.

The move, which was long expected, will also put Nakasone atop U.S. Cyber Command, the Defense Department’s digital warfighting unit, once he is confirmed by the Senate. The two organizations have shared a leader since the Pentagon launched Cyber Command in 2009.

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Rob Joyce, Trump’s top cyber adviser, announced the pick on Twitter.

“An exceptional leader for two exceptional [organizations], he brings great experience and strong cyber background,” Joyce wrote.

Both the NSA and Cyber Command need a new head after current NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers announced he would retire this spring after a nearly four-year term.

Nakasone, 54, has been the chief of Army Cyber Command since late 2016. In that role, he also directed Joint Task Force Ares, a special unit that develops digital weapons to attack and disrupt the Islamic State’s online operations.

Prior to that, Nakasone served at Cyber Command, where he oversaw the units tasked with defending the country’s digital networks and information systems, collectively known as the Cyber National Mission Force.

He also twice worked as a staff officer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And, as a colonel, Nakasone served as a staff officer to Gen. Keith Alexander, who led the NSA from 2005 to 2014 and was the first head of Cyber Command.

Widely respected through the cybersecurity and military communities, Nakasone will have to draw on his breadth of experience to shepherd NSA and Cyber Command at a pivotal time.

Morale at the NSA has reportedly suffered in recent years amid a series of bombshell leaks of the clandestine agency’s most secret hacking tools.

The government has arrested three individuals for stealing classified materials in the last two years, but there has been no public indication that authorities know how all the high-profile thefts occurred, including one that led to the mysterious Shadow Brokers hacker group — a suspected Russian cutout — posting the agency’s cyber weapons online.

Numerous senior hackers and analysts have also left the NSA to cash in on their skills in the private sector.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department is working to slowly separate Cyber Command from the NSA.

Since the digital warfighting unit’s inception in 2009, Cyber Command and the NSA have shared resources, staff and leadership. The two organizations are even housed on the same campus at Fort Meade, Md.

But Cyber Command is expected to reach “full operational capacity” this fall, with 6,200 staffers spread across 133 teams. And the Trump administration recently decided to elevate Cyber Command, placing it on equal footing with long-standing military units like Central Command, which orchestrates the country’s campaign to eradicate ISIS.

It’s unclear when the Senate Armed Services Committee will take up Nakasone’s nomination.

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Jared Kushner credit line debts increased in 2017

Jared Kushner is pictured. | AP Photo

It’s unclear whether the uptick in the three lines of credit owed by Jared Kushner is tied to the Kushner Companies’ reported financial challenges. | Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

Jared Kushner, a White House aide and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, appears to have drawn more money out of three separate lines of credit in the months after he joined the White House last year, a newly released document shows.

Recent revisions to the financial disclosure form filed by Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, bumped up each of those debts to a range of $5 million to $25 million.

Versions of the couple’s disclosures made public in July valued those debts at $1 million to $5 million apiece. The loans were extended by three banks: Bank of America, New York Community Bank and Signature Bank.

Taken together, the sequence of filings indicates that the increases in the amounts outstanding under the lines of credit took place between last March, when Kushner’s form was first submitted, and June, when Ivanka Trump’s was first filed. The forms report the value of assets and debts in broad ranges. It’s possible the amounts outstanding have changed categories since last June.

The changes take Kushner and Trump’s reported debts to a range of approximately $31 million to $155 million from the previously reported range of between about $19 million and $98 million.

When Ivanka Trump first filed her disclosure form in July, she reported the debts at the same level her husband originally did. However, in revisions to the form before it was formally certified by the Office of Government Ethics on Dec. 26, the outstanding debt for the three credit lines was raised to the higher level.

One debt did drop in value as Ivanka Trump’s form was revised: the amount owed on a Visa account went down to a range of $50,001 to $100,000, from $100,001 to $250,000.

The Bank of America and New York Community Bank credit lines are held jointly by Kushner and his father, Charles, according to the disclosure forms. The Signature Bank loan is owed by Jared Kushner and his mother, Seryl.

The Kushner family’s real estate empire has reportedly come under financial stress in the past year or two, due to changes in the real estate market and difficulties the firm has faced in securing financing for some projects. Many of the problems stem from the Kushner Companies’ decision to purchase the 666 Fifth Avenue building in Manhattan in 2007 for $1.8 billion.

Last year, the Kushner firm floated a plan to tear down and rebuild the office tower, but another company that bought nearly half the building in 2011 said last fall that the plan appeared to not be feasible.

It’s unclear whether the uptick in the three lines of credit owed by Jared Kushner is tied to the Kushner Companies’ reported financial challenges.

A spokesman for attorneys representing Kushner and Ivanka Trump declined to comment on the increased debts.

A Kushner Companies spokeswoman also had no comment.

Josh Gerstein is a senior reporter for POLITICO.

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