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January 31, 2019

In a New York Times op-ed published late Wednesday, Venezuelan opposition leader and U.S.-backed interim president Juan Guaidó made his case that he, rather than President Nicolas Maduro, is the constitutionally legitimate leader of Venezuela. The opposition's plan to manage Maduro's "exit with the minimum of bloodshed," he wrote, is to shore up the opposition-led National Assembly, "consolidate the support of the international community," form "a transitional government," and hold "free elections." Guaidó added:

The transition will require support from key military contingents. We have had clandestine meetings with members of the armed forces and the security forces. We have offered amnesty to all those who are found not guilty of crimes against humanity. The military's withdrawal of support from Mr. Maduro is crucial to enabling a change in government, and the majority of those in service agree that the country's recent travails are untenable. [Juan Guaidó, The New York Times]

Guaidó "did not say who in the military he had been speaking with or what their positions were," BBC News reports. "Venezuela's top military representative to the U.S., Col. José Luis Silva, has defected — but senior military figures in Venezuela have supported Mr. Maduro," and many of them hold influential posts in his government. So far, the U.S. and more than 20 other nations have recognized Guaidó as interim president and the European Union says it will do so if Maduro doesn't announce new elections by Sunday, while Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey are among the countries that back Maduro.

Maduro told Russia's RIA news agency that he is prepared to hold talks with the opposition "for the good of Venezuela," but Guaidó writes in the Times that while "Maduro and his henchmen disingenuously propose 'dialogue'" when repression fails, "we have become immune to such manipulation. There are no more stunts left for them to pull." Read the entire op-ed at The New York Times. Peter Weber

9:01 a.m.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is once again preparing to resist increased calls from Democrats to launch an impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

Pelosi will meet with House Democrats in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday is and expected to urge against impeachment, Politico reports, continuing to argue that the process should not be pursued until it has support from Republicans.

The House speaker, who denies there is a "divide" in the party over this issue, previously argued against these calls during a meeting with Democratic leaders on Monday, reportedly contending that lawmakers have not exhausted all steps and that their investigations are now "getting some results." She is urging Democrats to proceed with these ongoing investigations, expressing fear that this talk of impeachment is drowning out their message.

But some Democrats, including Rep. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), argued during Monday's meeting that opening an impeachment inquiry would put them in a stronger position to investigate Trump and overcome his attempts to block them, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Democrats had begun to step up impeachment talk after former White House counsel Don McGahn defied a subpoena at the direction of the White House, with even some who haven't outright called for it suggesting they may be headed in that direction. For instance, House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Tuesday told CNN in reference to impeachment that "I'm getting there." Brendan Morrow

8:43 a.m.

The St. Louis Blues beat the San Jose Sharks 5-1 in Game 6 of the National Hockey League's Western Conference final on Tuesday night to advance to the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. St. Louis won the final three games to take the best-of-seven series and reach the final for the first time since 1970. Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn each contributed a power-play goal, and goalie Jordan Binnington made 25 saves for the Blues. "We always believed we could do this," said Tarasenko. "But it's still an unbelievable feeling." Game 1 of the final series is Monday night in Boston. Harold Maass

8:23 a.m.

President Trump was apparently thinking about his poll numbers on Wednesday morning, and he wasn't happy.

Sixty-five percent isn't out of the realm of possibility for most presidents, but Trump has never risen above 46 percent in Gallup's tracking poll (he's now at 42 percent). It isn't clear what Trump hoped to accomplish with this tweet, which appears to say a quarter of the electorate is either gullible or stupid, and Trump doesn't say which polls he's objecting to, though several fit the bill.

Trump's poll numbers had been improving on good economic news and after the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, Ed Kilgore notes at New York, but now he's back to the low 40s, "very near where he's usually been, with somewhat more frequent and recent dips into the high 30s." Trump's RealClearPolitics approval average on Wednesday was 42.7 percent, and FiveThirtyEight pegged his approval at 41.2.

A CBS News poll released Wednesday notched Trump's approval rating at a moderately high 41 percent, but a Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday put Trump 19 points under water, with 38 percent of voters approving and 57 percent disapproving. And as Harry Enten pointed out on CNN Wednesday morning, 54 percent of voters in that poll said they would definitely vote against Trump in 2020, putting him in an unwanted league of his own.

In the CBS News poll, 71 percent of Americans say the economy is good, and 50 percent of them approve of Trump's handling of the economy, his highest number. His numbers on everything else — trade, foreign policy, immigration — are considerably worse. It's hard to blame that on the "Witch Hunt." Peter Weber

8:00 a.m.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has announced a plan to protect abortion rights as president, pledging to take executive action.

Booker on Wednesday said that if elected, he will "immediately and decisively take executive action to respond to these relentless efforts to erode Americans' rights to control their own bodies," CNN reports. His announcement comes amid a string of restrictive new laws across the country, and Booker said that "a coordinated attack requires a coordinated response."

This would involve creating a White House Office of Reproductive Freedom to protect abortion rights as well as to expand reproductive health-care access, CBS News reports.

Booker's plan also includes rolling back the "conscience rule," a proposal that would let health-care providers choose not to provide abortion access for religious reasons; end the "domestic gag rule," which prevents federal funding through Title IX from going to Planned Parenthood but has been blocked by a federal judge; and repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding from being used for abortion services except in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is in danger. He also plans to guarantee employer-based coverage for contraceptive care, per CBS.

The New Jersey senator's announcement comes after his 2020 rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), also introduced a plan to protect abortion rights with new federal laws codifying Roe v. Wade, an aspect of Booker's proposal as well. Warren said she will "protect access to reproductive care from right-wing ideologues in the states," warning that efforts to have Roe v. Wade overturned "just might work." Brendan Morrow

7:20 a.m.

On Monday, the Republican majority in Tennessee's state House voted 45-24 in favor of a historic vote of no confidence in House Speaker Glen Casada (R), following a series of scandals including sexually explicit text messages about women he exchanged with his male former chief of staff. Casada said he won't resign. In neighboring Mississippi on Tuesday, it was House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) who called for the resignation of a member of his caucus, Rep. Doug McLeod (R), arrested on Saturday on allegations he punched his wife because she didn't undress quickly enough when he wanted to have sex.

"I have attempted to contact Rep. McLeod to request his resignation, if in fact, these allegations are true," Gunn said in a statement. "These actions are unacceptable for anyone."

According to a report from the George County Sheriff's Department, when deputies knocked on McLeod's door in Lucedale on Saturday night, the lawmaker was visibly drunk and holding an alcoholic drink. When they said they were there responding to reports of a domestic assault, the deputies reported, McLeod said, "Are you kidding me?" The report says McLeod's wife had a bloodied nose and there was blood on the bed and bedroom floor, and a second woman told the deputies she had locked herself and the wife in her room after the incident, McLeod had pounded on the door, and when she refused to open it, he had threatened to "kill her [expletive] dog."

McLeod, arrested on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, "is free on bail," and "he didn't immediately respond to requests for comment," The Associated Press reports. "The 58-year-old McLeod has represented George and Stone counties since 2012. He's unopposed for re-election this year." Peter Weber

6:32 a.m.

Beto O'Rourke has spent the first two months of his presidential campaign driving around Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, interacting with voters at more than 150 town halls, or up to three a day. On Tuesday, before his first televised town hall on CNN, O'Rourke said he wasn't bothered that his local, meet-and-greet campaign has been rewarded with shrinking poll numbers. "In terms of the assessment, who the hell knows this far out from the first caucuses or elections," he said. But a big goal of his CNN town hall, at Drake University in Des Moines, was to reintroduce himself to a national audience.

O'Rourke's town hall experience showed, said Politico's David Siders. "Though he's slumped in polls, his performance served as a reminder of why O’Rourke was able to galvanize Democrats in his near-upset of Sen. Ted Cruz last year. He has an uncommon command of a stage — and an increasingly precise policy platform."

O'Rourke backed legalizing marijuana, universal gun-purchase background checks, and a ban on selling "weapons of war." He promised that as president, he would ensure "every nominee to every federal bench, including the Supreme Court, understands and believes the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land." And he endorsed immediate impeachment proceedings against President Trump, looking past any "short-term consequences to the consequences to the future of this country."

"If we do nothing because we are afraid of the polls or the politics or the repercussions in the next election, then we will have set a precedent for this country that in fact, some people, because of the position of power or public trust that they hold, are above the law," O'Rourke said. "We cannot let that precedent stand. There must be consequences, accountability, and justice. The only way to ensure that is to begin impeachment proceedings." Watch him tackle impeachment and two other issues below. Peter Weber

4:55 a.m.

The Democratic presidential field is split over whether to sit down for interviews on Fox News, a news network that has a decidedly anti-Democrat slant. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are on the no side, Trevor Noah said on Tuesday's Daily Show, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) got a warm welcome and appeared to win people over in his town hall, and on Sunday night, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg slammed Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson — and got a standing ovation from the Fox News audience.

"Pete Buttigieg went on Fox News, trashed their most popular anchors, and then got a standing ovation at the end — that is amazing," Noah said. "Because if someone came to your house and told you how ugly your kids were, you'd probably be like, 'Get the hell out of here!' You wouldn't be like: 'Someone had to say it. You've got a big-a-- head, Billy. ... Some reporters on Fox News actually credited Buttigieg for coming on to their network. But, the kids with the big-a-- heads? They weren't as happy."

"Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, and Brian Kilmeade, they were all pretty pissed with Buttigieg's star turn on Fox," Noah said. "But there was one Fox viewer who was downright heartbroken." That would be President Trump, who complained about Buttigieg's town hall beforehand and slammed it at a rally on Monday night. "Aw, poor Trump," Noah said. "You realize what happened here: The news network that he loves the most flirted with a younger, hotter candidate, and he's clearly shook."

Noah didn't have a pat answer on whether Democrats should go on Fox New or stay away. "In many ways, it's just like eating an Oreo," he said. And that ended in a profane Ben Carson takedown. Watch below. Peter Weber

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