The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Date of the Union

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked that President Donald Trump postpone his State of the Union address until the government is reopened.

Andrew Harnik / AP

What We’re Following Today

It’s Wednesday, January 16. The partial government shutdown is now in its 26th day. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked that President Donald Trump postpone—or deliver in writing—his State of the Union address, which is scheduled for January 29, saying that because of security concerns, it would be better to wait until after the government is reopened. The White House has not yet responded, but in a tweet, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen pushed back on Pelosi’s concerns.

Shutdown Watch: Democrats are weighing their options should the president declare a state of emergency for his border wall. If they go the way of filing a lawsuit against him, there’s precedent for that—set by Republicans challenging Obamacare in 2014. Meanwhile, Shahira Knight, Trump’s chief advocate on Capitol Hill, has become a key player behind the scenes in the shutdown fight. “If this ends in a way both sides are even somewhat happy with, it’ll be mainly because of her,” one White House official told Elaina Plott.

ISIS: Just weeks after the president said the Islamic State was defeated in Syria, and as the military begins the withdrawal of approximately 2,000 U.S. troops stationed there, ISIS claimed credit for an attack in the country that killed 19 people, including four Americans.

Raise the Barr: Wednesday was the second full day of confirmation hearings for William Barr, Trump’s pick to replace Jeff Sessions as the next attorney general. But the veteran lawyer, who says he loves the Justice Department and celebrates the rule of law, seems a strange fit for the job.

Gearing Up for 2020: As the Democratic primary heats up, it’s becoming clearer that many potential contenders are already developing aggressive policies to combat the racial wealth gap, reports Vann R. Newkirk II. In other 2020 news, a federal judge has held that the Trump administration’s proposal to add a citizenship question to the U.S. census is unconstitutional—but the Supreme Court could still review the decision.


Donald Trump's 50 Most Unthinkable Moments

(Gary Cameron / Reuters)

Unthinkable is The Atlantic’s catalog of 50 incidents from the first two years of President Trump’s first term in office, ranked—highly subjectively!—according to both their outlandishness and their importance.

At No. 3: Trump is the first modern president not to release his tax returns. He’s also making substantial money outside the presidency.

Join the conversation: Which moments from the Trump presidency would you add to this list? Email us at with the subject line “Unthinkable,” and include your full name, city, and state. Or tweet using the hashtag #TrumpUnthinkable.

Readers told us:

“Even more important, and even more unthinkable (although not attributable to this presidency), are the facts that virtually no Republican in Congress has challenged this president when any of these 50 events have occurred.”
— John Crusius of Seattle, Washington

“To me, the biggest damage may be the abandoned treaties and NATO support.”
— Paul David Musgrave of McDade, Texas

“In New Bern, North Carolina, as he was looking at the aftermath of the hurricane, Trump said to a homeowner with a big boat in his front yard, ‘At least you got a nice boat out of the deal.’”
— Ann Ringland, Durham, North Carolina


Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib laugh as they wait for other freshman legislators to deliver a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for an end to the government shutdown. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

Ideas From The Atlantic

Will Barr Defend the Constitution or Trump? (Adam Serwer)
“Barr has said he won’t be bullied into being a Trump crony. But that doesn’t mean he won’t do exactly what Trump wants him to do. It might just mean he doesn’t need to be bullied into it.” → Read on.

Nancy Pelosi Is Winning (Peter Beinart)
“She’s not only refusing Donald Trump’s demand for a border wall. She’s trying to cripple his presidency. And she may well succeed.” → Read on.

The Real Significance of the FBI’s Probe Into Trump (Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes)
“It is quite another thing to learn that the FBI actually took the investigative step of identifying the president personally—not just his campaign or his associates—as the focus of a counterintelligence probe.” → Read on.

What Else We’re Reading

Israel Will Be the Great Foreign Policy Debate of the Democratic Primary (Emily Tamkin and Alexis Levinson, BuzzFeed News)

Fake Editions of Washington Post Falsely Claim Trump Steps Down (Rebecca Morin, Politico)

Trump and Putin Have Met Five Times. What Was Said Is a Mystery. (Peter Baker, The New York Times)

Is AOC the Future of Politics? Is Trump? (Jonathan V. Last, The Bulwark)

We’re always looking for ways to improve The Politics & Policy Daily, and will be testing some formats throughout the new year. Concerns, comments, questions, typos? Let us know anytime here.

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