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Trump Is the Wild Card Who Could Force a Government Shutdown Next Week

When Congress comes back into session on Monday, America's legislators will have five days to fund the government before it runs out of cash. For several years now, funding deadlines have been a source of primo political drama as diehards from one party or another engaged in high-stakes brinkmanship, trying to ram their priorities into funding bills by threatening to torpedo the process and shut the whole thing down. Yet the lead-up to next Friday's deadline has been shockingly muted, seemingly because Republican power-brokers see value in a compromise with Democrats and only risk in a showdown. Unfortunately, no matter how conciliatory key players in Congress might prove to be, Donald Trump may (surprise, surprise) feel the need to throw a wrench into the deal-making works, leading America down a road of renewed chaos.

The country is back in this embarrassing place because the last Congress never reached a deal on a budget for fiscal year 2017, which runs from October 2016 to October 2017. Last December, they opted for a Continuing Resolution, allowing the federal government to run on 2016 funding levels until Friday. And Republicans, eager to show they can govern effectively after a spate of failures, have every reason to try to pass a new budget rather than another stopgap for the rest of 2017.

Trump and his allies made some bold requests for inclusion in their 2017 budget last month, like funding for his notorious proposed border wall and a military spending boost to be offset by substantial—some say brutal—cuts to domestic programs.(Wrangling over funding the rest of 2017 is not to be confused with the coming fight over Trump's 2018 budget, which calls for the elimination of many popular domestic programs that affect the environment, the poor, and plenty more.) Conservative Republicans also indicated they'd like to use the funding bill to defund their favorite nemesis, Planned Parenthood. But they need at least eight Democrats to pass their budget in the Senate—even after gutting the filibuster for Supreme Court appointments, it still applies for regular legislation. And Democrats made it clear they'd sooner force a shutdown than accommodate any of that stuff. Even though the public strongly opposes a shutdown, the Democrats believe blame would fall squarely on the ruling Republicans.

"Going back a few weeks, I thought the prospect of a shutdown was fairly high." said Rudy Penner, a former Congressional Budget Office director who's now a fellow at the Urban Institute, a moderately liberal DC-based think tank .

But after the failure of their attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) last month, Republicans seemed to soften. House GOP leader Paul Ryan started urging his caucus to skip debates on Planned Parenthood and get something passed, while Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell openly vowed to work with Democrats to avoid a shutdown at all costs.

"I don't think they want another black eye," explained former Senate Budget Committee director Steve Bell, now a senior advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Capitol Hill scuttlebutt suggests bipartisan negotiations are moving towards allowing defense spending increases and money for border security, but not at the level of Trump's requests and explicitly not for any Mexico wall. That denies Trump sufficiently for Democrats to declare a win, while giving the Republicans functionality and some cash for their broad priorities.

It's unclear what will actually emerge from negotiations, of course. Ryan, whose deputies are reportedly loath to work with Democrats in the House, could lean too far towards placating arch conservatives supporting Trump's goals, alienating key Democrats. Or deficit or defense hawks could take issue with the sums included in any plan and raise hell. But as Molly Reynolds, a Congress-watcher at the Brookings Institute, put it, "The idea of negotiating a large spending bill that gets some Democrats on board while also navigating the divisions within the GOP is something congressional leaders have done before."

"They have not done it with Trump in the White House," she added as a note of caution.

Watch our recent chat with Ex-Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi on VICE News Tonight.

Earlier this month, to try to force Democrats to deal with him on healthcare, Trump threatened to blow up a subsidy system vital for insurers to keep offering discounted plans to low-income people on the ACA marketplaces. This has inspired Democrats to try and use the upcoming funding bill to guarantee subsidy funding. "But it is hard to see how many Republicans would vote to 'prop up Obamacare,'" explained Case Western budget politics expert Joe White. "If the Democrats are hearing from insurers that the [subsidy] issue has to be fixed now, which is what I'm hearing," and Trump does not back down, "then it's hard to see how a major confrontation can be avoided."

Some inside the administration also reportedly feel like they need more on their resume by their 100th day, which happens to be one day after the funding deadline. Trump proxy and director of the Office and Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney has recently called for any funding bill to include a provision to withhold federal grants from "sanctuary cities" and have some cash for the border wall, as well. (Never mind the fact that no one's entirely sure how to define sanctuary cities as a concept, much less how to actually defund them.) Mulvaney's also been fairly glib about the prospect of a shutdown, claiming he thinks one can be avoided, but if it happened it wouldn't be such a big deal.

"The president is the leader on this," said Bell. "Is he willing to make sufficient concessions [on his agenda] to get a bill that keeps the government open? … A win for the Republicans is just to keep the government running. A victory for the president may have to have the wall in there," because that project, while not actually vital for the nation, is thought to be key to his base credibility and outsized ego.

Penner's still hopeful. He thinks even some hardline conservatives realize there are only five months left in the fiscal year, so this might not be the best use of their pugnacious potential. Leadership can promise diehards that major issues will come to the fore later, and they're likely to move mountains to convince Trump not to interfere or threaten a veto of any potential compromise, either. In fact many observers seem to think Trump's all bluster here—that he'll back down and let cool heads prevail.

But Trump is also a notoriously unpredictable and a-strategic wingnut. "I know what they're fighting about on the Hill, but what I don't know is what the president is truly not willing to back down on," Bell said. "Until we get a better sense, probably by Monday or Tuesday, of what the president is really willing to accept," we won't really know what the actual risk of a shutdown is.

Even if things work out next week, and a compromise is reached that keeps Uncle Sam fed for five more months, all of these issues will just pop up again in the early fall, when the fight over the 2018 budget begins.

"This is an overture," Bell concluded. "The opera is really [fiscal year 2018.] That's when the real confrontation and conflict will come."

Follow Mark Hay on Twitter.

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner Finally Booked a Comedian

Hasan Minhaj, of The Daily Show fame, has been tapped to perform at this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner later this month, despite the fact that Donald Trump and White House staffers have decided to bail on the traditional event, Politico reports.

Jeff Mason, the president of the White House Correspondents' Association, revealed the choice on Tuesday in a relatively delayed announcement, since comedians chosen to perform at the dinner are usually announced in February. President Trump's "running war" with the media created some confusion among regular attendees unsure of whether or not the event would even happen this year. However, with this year's choice, Mason is hoping to keep the April 29 event civil.

"I was not looking for somebody who is going to roast the president in absentia; that's not fair, and that's not the message we want to get across," Mason said on MSNBC's Morning Joe Tuesday. "I was looking for somebody who is funny and who is entertaining, because I want the dinner to be entertaining, but who can also speak to the message that the whole dinner is going to speak to: the importance of the free press." 

According to the New York Times, Minhaj is a Muslim Indian American known for not only skewering the president as a senior correspondent on The Daily Show but also speaking to the obstacles first-generation immigrants face after moving to America. After joining the Comedy Central show in 2014, Minhaj created an Off Broadway play, Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King, exploring his own backstory as an immigrant growing up in California. He also has some hosting experience as well, having been the headliner at Washington's Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner last year.

"It is a tremendous honor to be a part of such a historic event even though the president has chosen not to attend this year. SAD!" Minhaj said in a statement Tuesday. "Now more than ever, it is vital that we honor the First Amendment and the freedom of the press." 

Since 1921, the White House Correspondents' Association has held the annual scholarship dinner as a way for the media to rub elbows with the current administration and honor quality political reporting. But this year, Trump's hostility toward the media caused many news outlets to cancel their afterparties and inspired comedian Samantha Bee to host her own alternative event on the same night. 

Typically, the headlining comedian cracks a few jokes about the current administration and the media before the president, the first lady, and the press secretary present awards. This year, however, Watergate journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein will help hand out awards, as Trump will be the first president since 1981 not to attend.

Actually, Trump Has Unchecked Access to His Business Profits

Being a government watchdog during Trump's presidency is kind of like living in a nightmare for one key reason: The president has refused to divest himself from his business assets, instead placing them in a trust and handing off operations to his two sons. In January, Trump's lawyer said the president would be "completely isolating himself from his business interests"—but it turns out that he can withdraw money from his businesses at any point, for any reason, without telling the public, ProPublica reports.

In early February, the terms of the trust were discreetly revised to allow its trustees, Donald Jr. and attorney Allen Wisselberg, to "distribute net income or principal" from the Trump Organization to Trump "at his request" or whenever the trustees "deem appropriate." Additionally, he's not required to disclose if and when he taps into those funds because the corporation is private.

"For tax purposes, it's as if the trust doesn't exist at all," Steven Rosenthal, an expert with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told ProPublica. "It's just an entity on paper, nothing more."

The revelation presents a thorny conflict-of-interest problem. Not only can Trump see how his more than 400 businesses are doing, thanks to regular updates from his son Eric—he can now actually reap the profits from them. Hypothetically, the president could also use info about his businesses to pursue policies that would improve them.

But the Trump Organization doesn't seem to see it that way. According to a statement from company spokeswoman Amanda Miller, the trust creates "multiple layers of approval for major actions and key business decision[s]."

Although Trump's lawyer assured the public the president will be blind to what's happening with his businesses, the president himself has said he could manage the country and his company simultaneously if he really wanted to. 

"I could actually run my business and run government at the same time," Trump said in January. "I don't like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to."

Follow Drew Schwartz on Twitter.

There’s So Much Legal Weed That It Might Now Be Too Cheap

If there's one thing to take away from Economics 101, it's the fundamental rules of supply and demand. When the supply exceeds the demand, prices tumble, which is exactly what's happening right now in the legal weed market. 

According to Forbes, the prices for marijuana in the states where it's legal have fallen precipitously. In 2015, wholesale pot plummeted from $2,500 a pound to only $1,000 in 2016. In Colorado, prices went from $8 a gram for marijuana flower (what the rest of us call "bud") in mid 2016 to a current price of $6. The drop was more dramatic in Washington, where prices decreased from $25 a gram to just $6.

Experts believe this is a result of heavy investment in the marijuana business, which is causing pot production to exceed demand as big-money speculators try to cash in on the emerging market. In the short-term, this market saturation means that prices at the dispensary will be down. But as it becomes more difficult for small growers to turn a profit, they may go out of business, possibly leaving kush fiends with fewer options.

A crowded market might not be the worst thing for consumers, though. When there is a lot of product vying for tokers' attentions, brands are forced to differentiate and go beyond coming up with cute strain names like "Steve McGarrett's Hair" or "God's Vagina 2.0." Some strains will likely rely on celebrity endorsements, like Willie Nelson's Willie's Reserve or Snoop Dogg's Leafs by Snoop. Others will go the Whole Foods route, making organic and pesticide-free bud available at a premium. Some may just try to make their pot stronger.

Still, there are parts of the marijuana market that are holding steady, particularly edibles, concentrated oils, and concentrates made for vapes. There's also the high-end weed market with its $200 blunts that shows no sign of slowing down.

Of course, this is only a concern to those in the eight states where recreational marijuana is currently legal. While the legal weed market is worth about $6.9 billion a year, 87 percent of all marijuana purchases are still made on the black market, which is estimated to be worth, annually, about $46 billion. Some might argue that we're currently living in the Golden Age of Illegal Weed, where dealers are still seeing large profit margins.

Three States Are Suing Trump Over His Immigration Ban

The attorneys general from Massachusetts, New York, and Washington are suing the Trump administration for the president's controversial executive order banning refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, the Associated Press reports.

"This is a president who does not have respect for the rule of the law," New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, told the AP Tuesday. "That's something that bothers a lot of people."

Schneiderman and Massachusetts AG Maura Healey announced on Tuesday they would be working together with groups in their states, including the ACLU, that have already filed lawsuits against the president for this action. Their statements follow Washington's attorney general, Bob Ferguson, who announced his own lawsuit on Monday, which asks a judge to throw out certain parts of Trump's executive order that bars people from entering the country from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

"It's my responsibility as attorney general to defend the rule of law, to uphold the Constitution on behalf of the people of this state," Ferguson said Monday. "And that's what we're doing."

The lawsuits follow a letter signed by 16 Democratic state attorneys general on Sunday condemning the immigration ban. That letter includes signatures from Schneiderman, Healey, and Ferguson, as well as the attorneys general who represent California, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Virginia, Vermont, Oregon, Connecticut, New Mexico, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Illinois, and the District of Columbia.

The letter reads, "Religious liberty has been, and always will be, a bedrock principle of our country and no president can change that truth."

The Canadian Women Who Marched on Washington

This post originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Every day after the election of Donald Trump, I walked into my Toronto workplace with my shoulders hunched as if expecting another blow. The lone American, I had assured Canadian coworkers that there was no way Trump would be elected president. In the weeks after, I felt like a dog that had been kicked.

But no more than a week after that stunning event, I walked into the office and was stopped short by my coworker Carolyn. "There's going to be a protest in DC, and my friend and I are thinking of going," she said. She wanted to know where they should stay, and I—a Washington native—promised to consult on safe, transit-accessible neighborhoods after I grabbed a double-double.

I stood in the line at Tim Hortons and thought about which neighborhoods I should direct them to. I thought about what it meant that these Canadians were willing to shell out airfare and leave their homes and kids to get involved in the politics of my fucked-up country. And I felt, for the first time since the election, a little bit of warmth replace that hollow feeling that I'd been carrying since the night I watched the results come in on a seedy bar on Bloor Street.

And that's how I ended up taking the afternoon off work, flying out of Toronto, and hosting six Canadian women in my parents' house in the DC suburbs.

All photos via the author

On a break at work, I asked Jenn and Carolyn—both teachers, like me—why they felt so driven to attend the event.

"I was so angry and sad when that video came out," Jenn said, referring to the infamous recording of Donald Trump talking to Billy Bush. "I felt it physically. And I was so sad that that was the reality of who this man was, and people still supported him."

For Carolyn, it was about the close relationship between Canada and the US. "American politics are part of our everyday culture," she said. "Trump's victory resonated because Canadians have a vested interest in what happens in the states. When you meet an American woman and you're talking to her, we're so alike.

"I feel like it could be us."

Our plane out of Toronto was packed full of women attending the march, all wearing pink knitted pussyhats. I smiled at them as I found my seat, wondering why they felt compelled to come to my hometown.

So the next day, in the crowded streets around the US Capitol, I asked them. And this is what they told me.

Jane Farrow (left) with partner Annabel Vaughan

Jane Farrow, 55

Occupation: "I am free" (actually, she's an author, broadcaster, and community organizer)

Jane: "I'm here to stand in solidarity with the brothers and sisters of America who are having a shit time with a nasty bit of business in the big chair.

"It's really important for people to feel like they're not alone. It's incredible to have been here yesterday during inauguration—the streets seemed completely empty, like it was a ghost town, and now you're standing with hundreds, thousands of people. They're converging, they're walking right by—all the hats, the signs, people are smiling... You know, you get a lump in your throat. You're here to just kind of go, 'Hey, we are not going to stand idly by and let this happen.'"

Sadaf Jamal (right) with friend Ujyara Farooq, 22

Sadaf Jamal, 38

Occupation: Runs a health and wellness program for Muslim women

Sadaf: "I'm here because... as a Muslim woman, I believe we have to come together, stand for equality, and then if we see any injustice happening anywhere, we stand up against it. And then we support people who are marginalized. There's nothing wrong with being different; there's everything wrong with marginalizing those people with differences. So we are here to empower everybody and give this message on behalf of Canada: to stay strong, stand strong, and you belong here."

Ujyara: "I don't think this is just for Trump, this is a stand against injustice. Canada—as much as I love it, it's not exempt from it. So we're here just to show that hey, we're going through the same thing, let us stand with you, you stand with us. So I don't think this is necessarily just about American politics. It's about the state of the world right now."

Jennifer Bascom with daughters Cameron Bascom and Mikaelle Steinberg, and partner Jessie Steinberg

Jennifer Bascom, 43

Occupation: Public school teacher

Jennifer: "[We're here because] in beautiful, almost-perfect Canada, after Trump was elected there was a rise in hate crimes, including anti-Semitism, and my wife is Jewish.

"I became a feminist back in the early 90s at Queen's University, and I've sort of been protesting ever since. But it's actually been years since we went to a really big march, and I wanted to register my protest. And I wanted our daughters to experience the power of a movement of this nature, and the power of sisterhood and solidarity. And I wanted Americans to know that they're not alone, and their neighbors are not just nice, we're ready to mobilize and support them.

"I think when the people who support Trump and his values—if you can call them values—see this kind of grassroots outpouring and mobilization of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people, it will let them know that maybe their ideas are not as popular as they think they are."

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, 51

Occupation: Teacher, novelist

Kathryn: "I'm marching with my American sisters as a show of solidarity in a time when women's rights—rights hard won over many decades—are being eroded. I am marching in solidarity with women of color, with LGBTQ friends, with persons with disabilities, with immigrants, with any person who is disenfranchised or is threatened by neo-fascistic policies that may come into play with this new government.

"I imagine this march will have a mobilizing impact for many people. It already has. Just this morning on the news we heard that while 200 buses have applied for city parking in DC for inauguration day. 1,200 have applied for city parking for the march date. [Note: Those numbers grew to 450 and 1,800, respectively ]. This is an astonishing, isn't it? I find it hugely exciting. Event the penguins in Antarctica will be marching!"

Emma Maris (left) with friend Soibhan McClelland

Emma Maris, 41

Occupation: Lawyer

"Why am I participating? Oh my God, I'm going to cry!

"Because it crossed a line… things that should have been deal breakers weren't deal breakers. The gendered nature of the attacks on Hillary Clinton in particular—the criticisms that she faced that weren't faced by her male counterparts—appalled me. Every woman that came forward and said she was assaulted and they were demeaned, and said they weren't even attractive enough to assault—it hurt, and it felt personal.

"And I'm afraid it's going to spread, and we're here because they're our family, they're our neighbors, what they do affects us. And I can't stand by, it's not OK. It's not OK, and he needs to hear that loud and clear. It's not OK."

The march was too large to take the planned route, so my Canadian friends and I took our own path. We marched from the Capitol steps down the National Mall and around the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, and I watched their faces as they took it all in.

"Look what happens when women decide to organize," Carolyn said, marveling.

"I was so angry and sick, but this kind of restores your faith," Jenn added. "There are so many of us."

Later that night, over glasses of wine, we rejoiced in the massive turnout across the United States and in other countries. Laura, a mother of two and high school counselor from Etobicoke, was impressed with the size of the march in Toronto. "I could have stayed to Toronto. I thought I had to go to DC. But I think I underestimated my sisters. I wasn't alone in my nausea."

I asked her, then, was the trip worth it?

"One hundred percent. It was breathtaking. I think it was the best day of my life."

Rosemary McManus is a teacher and writer based in Toronto.

Did Robert Caruso Con The Washington Press—Or Is That What The Russians Want You To Think?

How hard is it to con people in Washington, D.C.? Easier than you might think, considering it’s the place where things like nuclear war get decided. The national-security circuit in particular, with its think tank fellowships and massive government contracts, is one of the juiciest rackets around.

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