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Trump warns border security conference committee before talks begin

President answers rare rebukes from intel chiefs, Mitch McConnell in early morning tweetstorm

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell  after delivering his address to a joint session of Congress in 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell  after delivering his address to a joint session of Congress in 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 9:06 a.m. | An early rising President Donald Trump appeared eager to drive Wednesday’s agenda, sending a warning during his daily “executive time” to the special committee trying to avert another government shutdown and defending his Middle East policy after a rare GOP rebuke.

A House-Senate conference committee trying to craft a border security package Trump will support will meet Wednesday for the first time, and the president let them know funding for a border barrier needs to be in any legislation they craft ahead of a Feb. 15 deadline.

If that panel “is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!” the president tweeted.

[So many 2020 Democrats, so much (executive) time]

If that committee fails to strike a deal Trump would sign into law, a quarter of the federal government would again close after his own White House aides acknowledged a 35-day shutdown that ended Friday hindered the economy. But he promised a southern border wall to his conservative base during the 2016 and 2018 campaigns, and he continues to insist on something Democrats staunchly oppose.

Trump warns of another shutdown if Congress doesn’t reach a new deal by Feb. 15

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Trump also appeared eager to rebut his own intelligence leaders and the Senate’s top Republican, all of whom offered assessments Tuesday of various potential foes and threats contrary to the president’s policies and views.

Trump described his actions against the Islamic State have downgraded it from a group that two years ago was “out of control in Syria & running rampant” but soon will see its caliphate “destroyed,” something he claimed was “unthinkable two years ago.” He also defended his Afghanistan policies, saying talks with the Taliban are “proceeding well”

About 90 minutes after his tweet storm began, the president issued a direct rebuke of his top intelligence chiefs a day after they told a Senate panel Iran is not moving toward building a nuclear weapon. “The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!” the commander in chief tweeted. But he did not specify what information he might have seen that the heads of America’s spy agencies have not.

Trump offered some advice for his intelligence bosses, telling them to “go back to school!” That school, however, could be Fox News – the network aired a segment on an opinion show Tuesday evening slamming the intel chiefs.

The president was clearly feeling defensive, including about North Korea and his attempts to forge a personal bond with Kim Jong Un. “North Korea relationship is best it has ever been with U.S. No testing, getting remains, hostages returned. Decent chance of Denuclearization…” Trump tweeted.

“I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un shortly. Progress being made-big difference!” he wrote about a planned second face-to-face meeting with the North Korean dictator about his nuclear weapons, slated for next month.

But a day earlier, Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that ISIS continues to “stoke violence” in Syria. On North Korea, Coats offered a much different analysis that his boss, saying U.S. intel agencies have detected “some activity that is inconsistent with full denuclearization,” which Trump repeatedly claims Kim has agreed to. The DNI also said Kim and other North Korean leaders “ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.”

Trump also could have been sending an answer to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is pushing an amendment to a Middle East policy measure that would acknowledge “al Qaeda, ISIS and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to us here at home,” which experts are calling a rare rebuke of the Republican president.

[A day of House drama over a resolution blaming Trump for the shutdown]

“It would recognize the dangers of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan,” the majority leader said Tuesday on the chamber floor.

McConnell’s amendment and public comments are amount to a rare public break with Trump. His amendment comes after McConnell reportedly warned the president against shutting down nine Cabinet-level agencies then largely let White House officials try to strike a deal with senior Democrats before he stepped in and help end the crisis when members of his own caucus got restless.

“While it is tempting to retreat to the comfort and security of our own shores, there is still a great deal of work to be done,” McConnell said Tuesday in a clear warning to Trump and his “America first” nationalistic ideology. “We’re not the world’s policeman — but we are the leaders of the free world.”

But that wasn’t McConnell’s only rebuke of the president on Tuesday. He also signaled a willingness to support legislation that would prevent more government shutdowns, which he has long opposed and even boasted he is the one official who knows how to avert them.

“I don’t like shutdowns. I don’t think they work for anybody and I hope they will be avoided. I’d be open to anything that we could agree on on a bipartisan basis that would make them pretty hard to occur again,” he told reporters. Trump on Friday threatened another partial shutdown if the border committee fails to craft something with ample wall funding.

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