Dec 22, 2018

Axios AM

🎁 Good Saturday morning. Retailers call this "Super Saturday," which vies with Black Friday for the biggest shopping day of the year.

1 big thing ... Slat man: Christmas shutdown spooks GOP

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump's self-inflicted shutdown before Christmas has left Republicans with a debacle as their last act in control of the House. And now the party is even more worried about the outlook beginning Jan. 3, when Democrats take over.

  • "It's a showdown, but one side has already lost," said one outside adviser in close touch with the West Wing.
  • Be smart: The result will be further division, bitterness and paralysis in our politics and government.

Why it matters: The shutdown is a preview of how divided government could play out, with a Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the first national counterweight President Trump has had since he was inaugurated two years ago.

  • The shutdown demonstrates that Democrats won't just challenge Trump through oversight, but will also resist him in high-profile policy areas.
  • It also shows that Trump, so proud of the bestselling status of "The Art of the Deal," is in no mood to finesse newly powerful Democrats. With his eye on 2020, he's all about the base, with no apparent plans to co-opt the center.

A top White House official told me last night that negotiations were underway, and progress was being made.

  • And the official said that after the criticism of Trump by fellow Republicans over the Syria decision and the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Republican lawmakers hopped on planes all over the country to come and support him during unexpected votes at the Capitol yesterday.

House Republican leaders had been worried that so many defeated or retiring members might stay home that there wouldn't be a quorum. The GOP wound up with plenty of votes — but just no solution Trump would take.

  • A House Republican leadership aide told me: "We didn’t have the attendance issue we thought we might. And members were advised to stay close, and we’ll also give ample notice to get back to vote if there is a breakthrough."
  • "Members were vocal this week that they want to get [the wall funding Trump supports] done."
  • "But we're just waiting to see what the Senate and White House can put together."

In the Oval Office just 11 days ago, Trump told Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer: "I am proud to shut down the government for border security ... I’m not going to blame you for it."

  • So that made his messaging tougher when he tweeted yesterday: "The Democrats now own the shutdown!"

And somehow this final-hours pitch didn't win over Dems:


For Republicans, the hell of this is that this could have been a celebratory week to a bleak political year:

  • Trump yesterday signed a years-in-the making criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act — an authentic bipartisan accomplishment that makes a true difference in the lives of tens of thousands.
2. 411 of "partial shutdown"
Jared Kushner, incoming Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Vice President Pence walk from the House to the Senate while negotiating with lawmakers yesterday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"The disruption affects many government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees," AP reports:

  • "Roughly 420,000 workers were deemed essential and will work unpaid just days before Christmas. An additional 380,000 will be furloughed, meaning they will stay home without pay."
  • "Federal employees already were granted an extra day of vacation on Monday, Christmas Eve, thanks to an executive order."
  • "The Senate passed legislation ensuring that workers will receive back pay. The House seemed sure to follow suit."

"Those being furloughed include nearly everyone at NASA and 52,000 workers at the Internal Revenue Service. About 8 in 10 employees of the National Park Service were to stay home; many parks were expected to close."

  • "Some agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, were already funded and will operate as usual."
  • Ditto the Postal Service, food inspections, FBI, Border Patrol and TSA. Social Security checks will be mailed.

A reprieve for some national parks operating with skeleton staff, per Reuters:

  • "Republican governors in [Utah, Arizona and perhaps elsewhere] are working to make sure public restrooms get cleaned and visitor centers stay open."
3. Trump talks "many times" about firing Fed chair

President Trump "discussed firing Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell as his frustration with the central bank chief intensified following this week’s interest-rate hike and months of stock-market losses," Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs, Saleha Mohsin and Margaret Talev report.

  • "[T]he president has talked privately about firing Powell many times in the past few days."
  • "Advisers close to Trump aren’t convinced he would move against Powell and are hoping that the president’s latest bout of anger will dissipate over the holidays."
  • "Some of Trump’s advisers have warned him that firing Powell would be a disastrous move."

Why it matters: "Any attempt by Trump to push out Powell would have potentially devastating ripple effects across financial markets, undermining investors’ confidence in the central bank’s ability to shepherd the economy without political interference."

Bonus: Cover du jour
4. What it's like to work retail on Super Saturday
A worker gets ready to unload a portable cage of Apple products at the Target store in Newport, Ky. (John Minchillo/AP)

"We are the workers tasked with saving retail — for $9.50 an hour," Bonnie Miller Rubin writes on the cover of tomorrow's WashPost Outlook section.

After a long career as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, she took a "little retirement job" at White House Black Market at Oakbrook Center, an upscale women’s clothing store in a high-end mall in Chicago’s western suburbs.

  • "Rarely have I seen so many work so hard for so little."
  • "With the wave of closings this year, from Sears to Lord & Taylor, we had to step up our customer service. Do you need another size? We’ll bring it to you. Want it in petite? We’ll hunt it down at another store, and it will be shipped to you, free of charge. You need a 'smoking hot' dress for your ex’s wedding? Challenge accepted."

"Such attentiveness [is] a key strategy to increasing units per transaction (UPT), ... an incredibly crucial metric.

  • "That means that while you’re slipping into those jeans, I’m already scouring the racks for a top, a jacket and a belt. If you’re trying on a glitzy cocktail dress, I’ll appear with a pair of plum velvet pumps, coaxing you out of your Nikes. Ostensibly, it’s to give you a better idea of the total look, but it’s also a way to add $150 to the sale."

Worthy of your time.

5. First lady's red trees a hit
Carolyn Kaster/AP

"Melania Trump's cranberry topiary trees may have left some of her critics seeing red, but they turned out to be a Christmas hit — one of several new ideas the Trumps introduced this holiday season," AP's Darlene Superville reports:

  • "The red trees ... along the East Wing colonnade turned out to be quite the attraction: Pedestrian traffic jams formed as Trump's many party guests clamored to be photographed in front of the unusual holiday landscape."

"In a four-week stretch of 21 holiday parties, the president also did fewer official photo ops and largely froze out the press."

  • Trump delayed his plan to shift the merrymaking to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate, yesterday. "He remained in Washington while his wife and son, Barron, flew to Palm Beach without him."
  • "Trump and the first lady on Wednesday hosted the final two parties of the season, where guests feasted on lamb chops, shrimp and potato latkes along with a dessert bar that included lemon tart, coconut cake and Christmas cookies. Champagne and egg nog flowed freely."

The parties had a rhythm: "A tuxedo-clad Trump and the first lady, who has worn a variety of white, black and green gowns, descended the red-carpeted staircase hand-in-hand from their second-floor residence."

  • "Trump made roughly 10 minutes of welcoming remarks before inviting his wife to speak. They then mingled and posed for some informal photos before going back upstairs."
  • "Guests said the affairs amounted to festive reunions largely devoid of overt political talk while folks who'd been out of touch spent time catching up."
  • "The parties also offered job-searching opportunities for some of those on the hunt."

"Largely absent from the festivities this year was the traditional opportunity for guests to have a picture taken with Trump and his wife, a time-consuming process that requires the president and first lady to stand for hours, grinning, posing and making small talk with hundreds of guests, some of whom they hardly know."

  • "Trump retained the photo tradition for members of the U.S. Secret Service, law enforcement and the military, as well as staff who work in the residence."

"[N]otables who attended include 'Six Million Dollar Man' Lee Majors, Trump supporters Diamond and Silk and professional soccer player Wayne Rooney."

  • Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump national security aide, called the atmosphere a "true celebration of America's Judeo-Christian heritage and our oldest traditions."