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To avert a shutdown, GOP must first figure out where Trump stands

How can anyone negotiate on a sensitive issue when your party’s Senate majority leader doesn’t know where a president stands?
Image: President Donald Trump is flanked by Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Steny Hoyer during a meeting with bipartisan members of the Senate on immigration at the White House in Washington, DC, on Jan. 9, 2018.
President Donald Trump is flanked by Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Steny Hoyer during a meeting with bipartisan members of the Senate on immigration at the White House in Washington, DC, on Jan. 9, 2018.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

WASHINGTON — Less than 48 hours until a possible government shutdown, there’s some good news, per NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Marianna Sotomayor: House Republicans are confident they have the votes to pass a short-term funding bill.

Here’s the bad news: The votes don’t appear to be there in the U.S. Senate, with Democrats increasingly saying they want a DACA fix; with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., saying he’s a “no”; and with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., absent for his cancer treatment.

Given this Senate stalemate, these DACA comments yesterday from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were striking. “I'm looking for something President Trump supports, and he's not yet indicated what measure he's willing to sign,” McConnell said, according to NBC’s Frank Thorp. “As soon as we figure out what [Trump] is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels going to this issue on the floor.”

If the government does shut down on Saturday, there will be a furious blame game. Republicans will blame Democrats for demanding a DACA fix in the spending bill; Democrats will blame Republicans, who control the White House and Congress, and whose president rescinded DACA on his own; and everyone will bemoan Washington’s inability to govern one year into the Trump Era.

But there’s a more fundamental issue at play: How can anyone negotiate on a sensitive issue when your party’s Senate majority leader doesn’t know where a president stands? When the president one day says he’s going to leave the details up to Congress (“I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with,” he said on Jan. 9), but then rejects the one concrete bipartisan deal that gets cut (“The so-called bipartisan DACA deal … was a big step backwards,” he tweeted on Jan. 12)?

If there’s an inability to govern, the blame goes to the very top.

Trump and his chief of staff aren’t on the same page when it comes to a border wall

Speaking of… On Wednesday afternoon, the Washington Post popped this story: “White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told Democratic lawmakers Wednesday that some of the hard-line immigration policies President Trump advocated during the campaign were ‘uninformed,’ that the United States will never construct a wall along its entire southern border and that Mexico will never pay for it, according to people familiar with the meeting.”

But this morning, Trump tweeted a different tune: “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it. Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water,” he said.

He added, “The Wall will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the U.S. The $20 billion dollar Wall is ‘peanuts’ compared to what Mexico makes from the U.S. NAFTA is a bad joke!”

So when the president and his own chief of staff aren’t on the same page…

What happens if the government shuts down?

NBC’s Benjy Sarlin: “While funding expires on Saturday, you’d really start to notice the effects on Monday when hundreds of thousands of federal employees who are deemed non-essential don’t show up to work. Without funding, the law requires them to be furloughed without pay. In 2013, the last time there was a shutdown, a peak of 850,000 federal workers per day were furloughed, according to the Congressional Research Service. Without workers, national parks will be closed along with various government offices, programs, and activities.”

Also: “Federal workers considered essential to national security and the safety of life and property would still have to show up and do their jobs. That includes the military, law enforcement officials, TSA screeners, doctors, and border patrol agents, among others. Despite showing up for work, these excepted workers wouldn’t get paid unless Congress somehow authorizes more funding. In 2013, Congress passed the Pay Our Military Act, which kept military paychecks going during the shutdown and also allowed hundreds of thousands of civilian defense workers to keep going to work and received pay as well. But that law was not permanent, and Congress would have to pass a similar bill this time if they want to pay the same federal employees and contractors during a shutdown.”

In risky move,Trump heads to the Pittsburgh area to prevent the GOP from losing a special congressional election in March

President Trump today heads to the Pittsburgh area, where he gives remarks on the economy at 3:05 pm ET. But his visit has another purpose: He’s there to help prevent Republicans from losing another special election in this tough political environment — the race to replace GOP Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., who resigned in scandal last year.

NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald: “Though Trump's event is not officially a political one, it's an early sign of the stepped-up political involvement the White House has promised GOP officials ahead of November's midterm elections… The 18th District is overwhelmingly white and largely rural, and consistently votes Republican — Trump won it by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016. But feeling the wind in their faces after losses in Alabama and Virginia, national Republicans are sending the cavalry to support their candidate, state Rep. Rick Saccone.”

“Democrats are more bullish on their candidate, Conor Lamb, though the national party is wary about investing in another pitched battle on unfriendly terrain.” The Saccone-vs.-Lamb race takes place on March 13.

This is a huge risk for Trump and his White House. If Saccone wins, Trump can demonstrate he can go into Trump Country and help his party. But if Republicans lose — even with Trump’s appearance in the district — it will show that NO Republican is safe, even in Trump Country. The president’s prestige is on the line.

Gallup: World approval of America’s leadership drops to a low of 30 percent

“One year into Donald Trump’s presidency, the median global approval rating of the job performance of U.S. leadership across 134 countries stands at a new low of 30 percent. This is down nearly 20 points from the 48% approval rating in the last year of President Barack Obama’s administration, and four points lower than the previous low of 34 percent in the last year of President George W. Bush’s administration,” per a Gallup report.

Here are the approval ratings of the job performance of U.S. leadership in some select foreign countries:

  • Israel: 67 percent
  • Philippines: 59 percent
  • Poland: 56 percent
  • Iraq: 41 percent (a new high)
  • Italy: 45 percent
  • United Kingdom: 33 percent
  • India: 29 percent
  • France: 25 percent
  • Germany: 22 percent
  • Canada: 20 percent
  • Australia: 19 percent (a record low)
  • Mexico: 16 percent (a record low)
  • Pakistan: 14 percent
  • Russia: 8 percent