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News Brief: State Of The Union, Shutdown Day 34, Venezuela Politics


President Trump conceded a small defeat with words that were, for him, fairly measured.


He said he would delay the State of the Union speech. Days ago, you will recall, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would, quote, "suggest" that he delay it because of the partial government shutdown, or else submit the speech in writing. In a rambling letter yesterday, the president said he would do that speech anyway. Pelosi then wrote him again, saying he was disinvited. And on Twitter last night, the president said that is her prerogative. He said no other room besides the House chamber will do, so he will not try to find some alternate venue.

Amid this exchange of messages, protesters stood outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stop the shutdown. Stop the shutdown. We need a paycheck. We need a paycheck.

INSKEEP: They're chanting, we need a paycheck. The Senate does plan to vote on two bills that would fund the government today, although both are expected to fail.

MARTIN: NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro is with us this morning. Hey, Domenico.


MARTIN: So President Trump, as we know, not someone who backs down easily, but I guess he didn't really have a choice - right? - if Nancy Pelosi said he is not invited to her House.

MONTANARO: Well, he's always got a choice. But, like you said, he's not somebody who's really known to back down. He's known to escalate rather than take the temperature down. But he did tweet out that he would do the address when the shutdown was over. He said, I'm not looking for an alternative venue because there is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House chamber and said he looks forward to doing it in the, quote, "near future." No sign on when.

But it's a remarkable moment. And, you know, look; the politics of this - there's a confluence of polling that's been out that's shown his numbers getting worse and worse during the shutdown.

MARTIN: Right. So does that mean - because his poll numbers are dropping, is the president bearing the bulk of the political cost of the shutdown?

MONTANARO: So far, he absolutely is. There were three polls that were out yesterday from The Associated Press, from CBS News and from Fox, by the way, an outlet that the president watches a lot but does good polling. And all of them showed more people blaming the president for the shutdown than Democrats.

And the Fox poll, for example, found that three-quarters of people found that the shutdown was more of a problem than the border. And those are numbers that he has to be seeing. In the AP poll, his approval rating was just at 34 percent, which is really a low for him in that poll, down eight points from a month earlier and really bad - doing very badly with independents, 69 percent disapproving of the job he's doing.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, federal workers are expected to miss their second paycheck tomorrow. I mean, people are really suffering in this moment. There is political pressure on both sides. The Senate's got these two bills that they're going to bring up. They're both expected to fail. So where's the opening to end this?

MONTANARO: Well, the president has said, so far, that he's not budging on a wall. Democrats say they have a reason for not caving either. Take a listen to what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said about that yesterday.


NANCY PELOSI: There is serious and justified concern that this president would shut down the government anytime he does not get his way legislatively. That is why we must hold the line.

MONTANARO: And that's a line that you've heard from Democrats all day yesterday. So Democrats, like she said, want to hold the line. The Senate is going to vote this afternoon on these two proposals - one on the president's proposal for the $5.7 billion for a wall for temporary immigrant protections - that's expected to fail - and one from Democrats to simply open the government for a few weeks to negotiate. That's also expected to fail.

But a little bit of news here. NPR's Susan Davis reports that Democrats are prepared to make a counterproposal to the president that would spend a significant amount of money on the border, but not on a wall. We'll see if Republicans blink.

MARTIN: OK. NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico. We appreciate it.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome.

MARTIN: All right. So question - what do actual voters across America think of the shutdown?

INSKEEP: Past shutdowns have not always had much effect on elections. Republicans shut down the government in 2013 over Obamacare, for example. It was a very unpopular shutdown, but they still won the Senate in 2014. In 2019, though, the shutdown has gone much longer.

MARTIN: Right. NPR's Don Gonyea has been in Ohio this week getting reactions from voters about the standoff. Don, good morning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Where are you?

GONYEA: I'm in Chillicothe. It's about an hour south of Columbus. This is a red part of the state - not deep, deep red, but red. And in Chillicothe, there are precincts that vote Democratic as well. But when you talk to people here, the first thing you notice is that the partisan divide holds.

So Democrats I talk to say this thing is all on Trump - period. He owns it - that he's chosen a very unpopular path on the shutdown and that polls back that up. And they complain that Trump's demand for funding of the wall leaves just no room to negotiate.

Talk to Republicans, it gets a little more interesting. They're still with Trump, many as much as ever, but it's more complicated. And some will wonder, you know, what the president's plan is here.

MARTIN: What more do they tell you, those Republican voters? I mean, when they say it's more complicated, what does that mean?

GONYEA: Well, let's meet a few of them. Greg Rouse (ph) - I talked to him downtown yesterday. He's a government worker, but he works for the county. So he is working, but he says he knows people on furlough. He is a bit confused about Trump's strategy to, you know, to double down on the border wall after Republicans lost control of the House.

GREG ROUSE: I'm a little bit frustrated, but I'm not sure towards him exactly. I'm still a strong Trump supporter.

GONYEA: So I also talked to Fran Burdette (ph), who works in a law office in Chillicothe. She voted for Trump in 2016 but is quick to say, not enthusiastically. She does not like the way the president is handling these negotiations.

FRAN BURDETTE: I truly believe that we do need a wall if you look at all the statistics, but I don't think this is the right way to do it. The thing that worries me the most is the people that are not getting paid. And these people are living from paycheck to paycheck, you know, especially, like, the Coast Guard and different places, people on food stamps - all that kind of stuff. You know, they need help.

GONYEA: And I asked Burdette if she still supports Trump, and she said that she does. But then I said, can you look ahead to 2020 a bit for me? Will you be voting for him again? And she gave me a look, and she said, it is way too early to think about whether she's going to do that. So she's, you know, kind of wavering.

MARTIN: Yeah, interesting. I mean, you talked with a cross-section of people there. Are people really thinking about 2020, or are they more like her and saying, you know, just give me some time?

GONYEA: They're certainly watching the debate in Washington over the wall very closely. 2020 has crept into their consciousness whether they like it or not. And some are quick to say, hey, I voted for the president, and I'm with him again. But again, there is an awareness that a choice is coming up, and it's going to be on them before they know it.

MARTIN: And that the shutdown is playing into their calculus, at least a little bit.

GONYEA: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MARTIN: OK. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Thanks, Don.

GONYEA: A pleasure.


MARTIN: So there are two people claiming to be the president of Venezuela right now. And as you'd imagine, there's all kinds of chaos as a result.

INSKEEP: Nicolas Maduro was re-elected president, but the Socialist government that's been in power for many, many years has been accused of rigging elections and also changing the rules when they lose. And the leader of the legislature, Juan Guaido, has declared himself the interim president.


JUAN GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

INSKEEP: He's saying that he's the national executive in charge of Venezuela. He was speaking to a massive crowd in the capital, Caracas, yesterday. The United States, Canada and much of Latin America have formally recognized him as Venezuela's leader. Now, Maduro, the other leader, responded by expelling U.S. diplomats. But the U.S. has said they will not leave because the legitimate president did not ask them to go.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Caracas covering all this. Phil, one country, two presidents. What is happening right now? What are people telling you?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, what's going on is a major crisis with serious international implications. I want to step back just a second because this is kind of complicated. Venezuela's opposition refuses to recognize Maduro as president because they say his re-election for a second term, which just began recently, was fraudulent. And a lot of people agree with that.

So Juan Guaido has declared himself interim president, as you heard. Now, he's head of the National Assembly. That's Venezuela's congress. He says he'll be transitional leader until new, free and fair elections can be held. He's done that with the full support of the U.S., most of Latin America, Canada. And they say he's the president, not Maduro.

Yet, Maduro is in the presidential palace, and he says this is an attempted coup led by Washington, who wants Venezuela's oil and gas. And he's portraying it as a throwback to the Cold War and another installment in the U.S.' history of supporting coups and other forms of intervention in Latin America.

MARTIN: I mean, where are the people in this moment, Phil? Does Maduro have any actual grassroots support still?

REEVES: He does. It's often said he enjoys the support of about 20 percent of the country. I have no idea how reliable that figure is. But he does have supporters, and they were out on the streets yesterday, summoned there by the ruling Socialist Party, holding counterdemonstrations in answer to the day of national protests called by the opposition.

MARTIN: Are these U.S. diplomats actually going to leave? I mean, the U.S. doesn't recognize Maduro, so Maduro kicked the U.S. diplomats out. What's happening there?

REEVES: Yeah. This has become a really critical issue. Secretary Mike Pompeo says Maduro doesn't have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the U.S. The U.S. doesn't recognize him as president. It therefore follows the U.S. thinks that Maduro doesn't have the legal authority to throw out its diplomats.

But what happens if they don't leave? Maduro controls the streets here, and he controls the security forces so far. And I honestly don't know the answer to that question.

MARTIN: In just a couple seconds, do you think new elections will be held?

REEVES: Very difficult to say at this point. We're really at the beginning of this crisis, and no one really knows how it's going to play out.

MARTIN: Phil, thank you so much. Philip Reeves from Caracas reporting on the political crisis there.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE XX'S "INTRO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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