The Note: Executive branch showdown over secret Republican memo tests strong institutions

PHOTO: FBI director nominee Christopher Wray is sworn in during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee July 12, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington.PlayAlex Wong/Getty Images
WATCH FBI expresses 'grave concerns' about Republican memo

The TAKE with Rick Klein

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His allies stood up for President Donald Trump this week – time and again Tuesday night – to signal united government, as the president himself talked about the need for unity.

Now the Republican Party is united – against the very federal government it controls.

Beyond the talk of secret memos and “deep-state” conspiracies, this showdown is putting strong institutions to some serious tests.

The president is moving toward approving the release of a memo prepared by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, despite the FBI voicing “grave concerns about material omissions of fact...”

It sure looks like the White House is working with friends in the legislative branch to undercut or at least circumvent forces inside other parts of the executive branch.

Trump’s own pick to lead the FBI, Christopher Wray, could find himself isolated and ignored.

It comes at a time when the special counsel, Robert Mueller – whose work is supervised by the Justice Department – appears to be getting closer to his targets, whatever they may be.

Trump bends rules and traditions with regularity. But even powerful institutions and powerful individuals have breaking points.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

What do a government shutdown, State of the Union, and fast-approaching deadline have in common?

None seem to have moved the needle and brought lawmakers closer towards a grand compromise on immigration. At least not publicly.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump gestures after his State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, Jan. 30, 2018.Win McNamee, Pool via Getty Images
President Donald Trump gestures after his State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, Jan. 30, 2018.

A day after the president called for unity, and a little over a week before the government runs out of money again, both sides seem to have retreated to their corners. (The Republicans are literally away at a retreat).

The more mainstream Main Street Caucus, a group of 75 Republican House members, announced its support for the White House framework for a deal. That plan includes a path towards citizenship for DACA recipients but big cuts to legal immigration and family sponsorship.

Still, conservative Republican members remain skeptical.

The chair of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, R- N.C., has repeatedly expressed his frustration that a more hard-line bill, drafted by his colleague Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has not been pushed by GOP leadership.

And meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi yesterday again called the president’s proposal an example of an “extreme anti-immigrant agenda.”

Sitting stone-faced during the president’s address, she and other Democrats seemed both amused and far from the negotiating table.

The TIP with Meridith McGraw

Julián Castro, the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and a star in the Democratic Party, told reporters at ABC News in Washington he has not yet decided whether he'll run for president in 2020.

"I'm going to decide by the end of the year," said Castro. "I'm going to get out there around the country and basically listen to what folks are saying and get a sense for the mood of the Democrats and figure out what the race looks like then make a decision."

But Castro, 43, is currently making political moves that suggest he sees a bigger future for himself in a Democratic Party, he says, that is ripe for new, progressive leadership.

ABC News affiliate WMUR reported Tuesday that Castro will be visiting the "First in the Nation" state of New Hampshire to meet with young Democrats this month. Later this year, Castro hopes to publish a memoir about his life growing up in Texas. In the meantime, Castro will be crisscrossing the country to focus on his newly-launched PAC "Opportunity First" aimed at recruiting young progressive candidates for local, state, and federal races.

But while Castro has his sights set squarely on the future of the Democratic Party, he says he's also monitoring the Trump administration here in Washington.

Castro told ABC News that he thinks HUD "is worse" under current secretary Ben Carson.

"They're tearing apart the ability to effectively administer programs," said Castro, pointing to cuts to the number of federal employees - and political appointees he says do not have "much depth in terms of understanding housing and development issues."

"The administration wanted to cut six billion from the budget, so they (HUD employees) have no support at the White House, clearly."

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • GOP lawmakers meet at The Greenbrier hotel in Lewisburg, W.Va. for their annual retreat.
  • The President gives remarks to the GOP retreat at 12:30 p.m. and to the RNC winter meeting at the Trump International Hotel in DC at 8:10 p.m..
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will speak at an event with Forward Editor Jane Eisner on the intersection of law, media, and Jewish life. The event is sold out but will be broadcast live online.
  • Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson will discuss his vision for the U.S. Navy at an 11 a.m. event at the Heritage Foundation.
  • The Vice President will give remarks to the RNC winter meeting at 1:10 p.m. and will participate in a ceremony to swear former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback in as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom at 3 p.m.
  • QUOTE OF THE DAY

    "Every member of 'doc caucus' got out of the train and helped the guys who'd been injured," Rep. Neal Dunn said of his colleagues who are also doctors and who helped the injured after a train with Republican lawmakers aboard hit a truck on the way to the GOP retreat.

    NEED TO READ

    Rep. Schiff: Nunes gave Trump ‘secretly altered’ version of classified memo. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says the secret GOP memo sent to the White House — that sources told ABC News could be released as early as Thursday — is not the same one the committee voted to make public. (ABC News) http://abcn.ws/2nqO24T

    FBI expresses 'grave concerns' over accuracy of Republican surveillance memo. Only hours after President Donald Trump was caught on a live mic saying a controversial, Republican-drafted memo about government surveillance would be released to the public, the FBI says it has “grave concerns” about the memo’s accuracy. (Mike Levine) http://abcn.ws/2GAe3qL

    US prosecutors ask ex-Trump legal team spokesman for interview, sources say. As special counsel Robert Mueller drills down on potential obstruction of justice in his Russia investigation, prosecutors have asked Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for the Trump legal team, for an interview, sources told ABC News. (Pierre Thomas) http://abcn.ws/2nqfQXi

    CIA director met with Russian spy chief amid 2018 election concerns. CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with Russia's senior-most spy chiefs last week amid deepening concerns about Russia's potential interference in the 2018 midterm elections in the U.S., according to two ambassadors. (Conor Finnegan) http://abcn.ws/2DPu0ra

    Train ride meant to give Republican lawmakers bonding time before GOP retreat. The train ride taking Republican members of Congress to their annual retreat was supposed to be a bonding experience, with lawmakers encouraged to bring their families and use the time to get to know one another better. (Emily Goodin) http://abcn.ws/2rTBNTf

    Manchin fires back after Pence attack: 'This is why Washington sucks' During Tuesday's State of the Union, a lone Democrat in the front row leapt up and down to applaud the president during his address to Congress: Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. A war of words erupted between the lone Democrat to applaud the president during his State of the Union address and the White House on Wednesday afternoon. The White House seemed to turn on Manchin, criticizing the senator in a fiery speech by vice president Mike Pence. (Meridith McGraw) http://abcn.ws/2nzwwLo

    Trump's speech 'so exceeded my expectations' that I apologized, GOP pollster says. Republican pollster Frank Luntz weighed in on the performance and effectiveness of President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address, saying it "exceeded" his expectations. (Kandis Mascall) http://abcn.ws/2nu0Hn2

    CDC director resigns over her 'financial interests' in tobacco companies. The director of the Centers for Disease Control has resigned, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, in the wake of her "financial interests" coming under scrutiny. (Meridith McGraw) http://abcn.ws/2rVhswT

    Housing and Urban Development Department lawyers warned Secretary Ben Carson that allowing his son to organize a “listening tour” of Baltimore would risk violating federal ethics rules, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. http://wapo.st/2GBKkh5

    The New York Times reports that the former spokesman for Trump’s legal team Mark Corallo is going to tell Robert Mueller about a previously unreported call about the statement the White House released about Don Jr.’s meeting at Trump Tower. http://nyti.ms/2Euz717

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.

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