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The shutdown ball is now in Mitch McConnell's court

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.
Image:Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters about the possibility of a partial government shutdown at the Capitol on Dec. 18, 2018.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Dec. 18, 2018. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

WASHINGTON — As expected, the new Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed two spending bills on Thursday night to reopen the government — one that would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8, the other that would fund the rest of the government through Sept. 30.

And now the action turns to the GOP-led Senate, as well as today’s 11:30 am ET meeting at the White House with President Trump and congressional leaders.

As The New York Times notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a handful of potentially vulnerable GOP senators who are up for re-election next year — Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Thom Tillis, R-N.C., David Perdue, R-Ga., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. (McConnell himself is up for re-election in 2020.)

That’s a sharp departure from the 2018 cycle, when Democrats were the ones with the vulnerable senators. (In 2020, there is just one Democrat up for re-election in a state Trump won — Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala.)

Two of these Republicans are already breaking ranks. “We should pass the bipartisan appropriations bills that includes money for border security while we continue to fight for more border security money. Congress needs to take further action on border security but that work should be done when the government is fully open,” Gardner said in a statement, per NBC’s Frank Thorp.

And as Collins told Politico, “My goal is to get government reopened as fast as possible. And six of those bills, we’ve got agreements on and so I’d like to see those signed into law,"

McConnell has insisted that the GOP-controlled Senate will only take up legislation that’s bipartisan, bicameral and can get signed by President Trump. “The legislation that House Democrats reportedly plan to vote on later today is, in my view, not a serious attempt to check all three of those boxes,” he said yesterday, NBC’s Rebecca Shabad writes.

But that stance is undercut by the fact that the GOP-led Senate ALREADY passed a short-term spending without funding for Trump’s wall — of course, that was before conservatives slammed the president for not getting his wall.

There are usually two ways these kind of political impasses get solved: 1) the deal gets bigger — a lot more goodies and incentives get introduced to find a compromise, or 2) one side ends up caving.

And if you’re looking to see which side might eventually cave, look at the side with the biggest fissures and the most to lose.

How Trump has unified the Democratic Party

And if you want to know why the shutdown pressure is on McConnell, just look at how Trump has unified House Democrats. The drama of whether or not Nancy Pelosi was going to get the votes she needed to be speaker ended the moment after last month’s Oval Office meeting with Trump.

And, of course, Pelosi got the votes she needed on Thursday.

Trump has done more to help Pelosi — and unify Democrats — than anyone out there.

But here’s where Democrats aren’t united

“We’re gonna impeach the motherf---er”: “Hours after being sworn in, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., appears to tell a cheering crowd of supporters that the Democrats ‘are gonna impeach the motherf---er’ in a video posted online,” per NBC’s Jane Timm.

“Tlaib, a Detroit native who Thursday became one of the first two Muslim women and the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, is seen recalling her son’s response to her election. ‘When your son looks at you and said “Mamma look you won, bullies don’t win,” she appears to tell a cheering crowd. ‘And I said baby they don’t, because we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherf---er.’”

Tlaib’s expletive-laden call for impeachment comes after Speaker Nancy Pelosi downplayed those calls in her interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. “Well, we have to wait and see what happens with the Mueller report. We shouldn't be impeaching for a political reason,” Pelosi said.

It’s a reminder that when John Boehner and Paul Ryan had to deal with outbursts from the Tea Party/House Freedom Caucus right, Pelosi will have to deal with her left.

It’s early in the 2020 race — but not THAT early

The New Year has already ushered in a flurry of activity in the very early 2020 race for president. Consider:

  • Earlier this week, Elizabeth Warren announced an exploratory committee and is set to visit Iowa this weekend.
  • The New York Times and other outlets have scrutinized sexual-harassment allegations that rocked Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign.
  • Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe penned a Washington Post op-ed chiding the left for pursuing what he says are unrealistic policies like free universal college.
  • And former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has said NO to a 2020 bid and has instead urged Beto O’Rourke to run.

And if you closely followed the 2016 Dem race, you might be surprised by all of this early activity; after all, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders didn’t announce their bids until April of 2015.

So it’s early — but it’s also not THAT early. In the 2008 Dem race, John Edwards was already an official candidate in December of 2006; Hillary Clinton got in in January of 2007; and Barack Obama threw his hat into the ring a month later.

WaPo: Before you run against Trump, you have to run against Hillary Clinton

Speaking of Warren, the Washington Post looks at the challenge that she and other female Dem candidates will have in 2020.

“Just hours after Elizabeth Warren announced her plans to run for president, a question began surfacing about a possible weakness. It wasn’t derived from opposition research into some facet of her life. It had nothing to do with her policy ideas,” the Post writes. “It was the question often asked of female candidates and rarely of men: Is she ‘likable’ enough to be president? Others put it another, potentially more devastating, way: Is she too much like Hillary Clinton to be the nominee?”

“It’s not just the Democratic senator from Massachusetts who may feel compelled to come up with an answer. The 2020 presidential campaign is expected to include the largest field ever of female candidates, all of them campaigning in the wake of the defeat of the first female nominee of a major party… [T]he women looking at White House campaigns continue to shoulder gendered criticism and demands not placed on their male counterparts: to be strong but not too tough, to be assertive without being pushy, lest voters turn away for reasons that they may not acknowledge are sexist but that researchers say are.”