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Kirk Kovach | University of North Carolina 

Instead of honing in on a particular topic, I thought it might be useful to start addressing the week in review on a weekly basis. It seems like something new and exciting occurs every hour these days, but by taking a bit of time to reflect on the happenings of the week, we can try to understand the narrative building over time.

The Shutdown

With that said, the clear frontrunner for biggest story this week is the looming government shutdown. As of this writing, it looks like the House Republicans are already resigned to a shutdown. Majority Leader McCarthy is sending the troops home, leaving the work to the Senate (ergo, nothing is getting done today). The Republicans are really betting on the Democrats taking the blame for this, but I find that unlikely. Don’t just take my word for it: CBS News has just released some pertinent polling on the subject matter.

Per their polling, CBS found that 61% of respondents do not favor building a border wall, which definitely hurts the Republican leverage in this debacle. Some sort of fix for DACA would pass with bipartisan support, but the president has been ambiguous on what exactly he wants. Hardliners on immigration like Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton want funding for border security in exchange for any kind of deal. I suppose that is supposed to be leverage in this debate, but it is completely imagined.

Although Cotton and his fellow hardliners, which, depending on the day includes the president, think they have footing to fight, polling is just not on their side. The immigration debate is a big topic for their base, but it just doesn’t resonate with the population writ large. Something just short of 9 out of 10 voters side with Dreamers in the DACA debate; Leader McConnell is pinning the shutdown on Democrats, “all over illegal immigration.” That may be true on the face of it, but he’s really talking about DACA, which, again, is wildly popular across the board.

Republicans torpedoed the government back in 2013 because they were opposed to the Affordable Care Act, another popular program. The blame fell on them for the shutdown then, and new polling from WaPo suggests the same will happen again if they don’t find a solution tonight. 48% of respondents blame Trump and Republicans, while only 28% fault Democrats. They can tweet about the #SchumerShutdown all they want, but the public will blame the party controlling all of the government for a failure to fund it.

Leader McConnell is trying to rope CHIP funding into this and blame the Democrats for not funding the program, but, once again, this is a crisis of their own making. He says that DACA has two more months before it needs to be solved, but prominent Republicans like Lindsey Graham are calling for a solution to it. The GOP cannot corral their own one-vote majority, let alone find enough common ground with Democrats. With a president who has a penchant for questionable statements about immigrants, it doesn’t seem to me like immigration is the hill for Republicans to die on.

The Dossier

Moving away from the impending shutdown, House Republicans are hoping to release details from a new memorandum with details on the infamous Steele dossier. Apparently, this document will uncover information about the way in which agencies may have used the dossier to acquire warrants in FISA courts.

Republicans on Twitter have been abuzz over the possibility of the memo coming out, with many expecting it to be a bombshell once out. Steve King, a conservative from Iowa, says it is “worse than Watergate,” while the leader of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, said that “what I saw is absolutely shocking.” If history is any indicator, somebody in the House will leak the information if it isn't released through proper channels. It’s sure to put a new lens on the entire Trump-Russia story, and with the early reactions from some of the president’s most ardent supporters, they may see it as a justification to end the special counsel’s investigation.

If it does come to a point where Republicans are trying to end Mueller’s work, things could go south pretty fast. That would certainly be an inflection point for the Republicans if every member is forced to vote on whether or not to end the special counsel investigation. If and when we reach that point, a lot of Republicans will have to decide whether or not the president is worth defending.

The Calm Before the Storm(y)

The final story that has been surprisingly low-key this week is related to that exact question. The abridged version of this story is that, right before the 2016 election, Trump’s personal lawyer used a private company to funnel money to a pornographic actress named Stormy Daniels, to the tune of $130,000. For any other president, this would be absolutely wild and career-ending. For this one, it just seems like another day.

Whereas a good number of claims against the president have been unsubstantiated or otherwise a he-said-she-said type deal, this actually looks pretty compelling. It is irrefutable that the president’s personal lawyer created an LLC in Delaware, that the president has a nondisclosure agreement with Ms. Daniels, and that she was given $130,000. Perhaps most interesting is that this payment occurred in October, just weeks before election day. Again, in any other universe that would have ended his campaign, but we all remember the Access Hollywood tapes that shocked everyone just days before Trump won.

Because of the shutdown crisis, this story has gone under the radar. Perhaps it will become a bigger topic in the coming days, but it is amazing to sit back and look at everything going on right now. All of these stories have occurred, more or less, in the last two days. It is hard not to go numb trying to keep up with it all, but I hope that this dive into three of the events in the headlines has provided at least some insight.

Just to ensure that this ends with a bit of levity, the most important part of the Stormy Daniels story has to be this quote about the President of these United States:

“You could see the television from the little dining room table and he was watching Shark Week… He is obsessed with sharks. Terrified of sharks. He was like, ‘I donate to all these charities and I would never donate to any charity that helps sharks. I hope all the sharks die.’ He was like riveted, He was like obsessed. It’s so strange, I know.”

If the White House correspondents are worth their pay, they must ask Press Secretary Sarah Sanders this: why does the president hate sharks?

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