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Wake Up To Politics - April 12, 2017

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I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Wednesday, April 12, 2017. 573 days until Election Day 2018. 1,301 days until Election Day 2020.  It's the 6th anniversary of Wake Up To Politics!  As many of you know, I started this project as "The Daily Rundown," which I would send to my mom every morning to catch her up on the political news I was reading about.

I would like to thank all of you reading this, whether you have been reading this newsletter since it was called "The Daily Rundown" or you just subscribed yesterday. You have all helped me along this path in different ways, and your questions, comments, encouragements, and corrections mean more to me than you will ever know. As the years have gone on, it has sometimes become harder to keep up with the newsletter, but it has never stopped being fun, and certainly has not stopped being interesting. Thanks again.

Mark the Wake Up's 6th birthday: tell your friends and family to join WUTP's readership of over 2,000...they can sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe! Now, to the news...

Spicer Offers Apology After Hitler Comparison White House press secretary Sean Spicer was the subject of criticism once again on Tuesday after invoking Adolf Hitler to make a point on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons. "We didn't use chemical weapons in World War II," he said during his daily briefing, answering a question on Russia's alliance with Assad. "You have someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons."

In fact, Hitler frequently used the lethal gas Zyklon B to kill Jews and other Holocaust victims. According to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, at one point, up to 6,000 Jews were gassed at the concentration camp Auschwitz each day.

Later in the briefing, he was asked to clarify the remark. Still, he continued with the comparison. "He was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing," Spicer said, adding that Hitler "brought them into the Holocaust center," presumably a reference to concentration camps, while Assad "went into towns [and] dropped them down to innocent."

After the briefing ended, the White House sent a written statement from Spicer, clarifying that he was "in no way...trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust," and was merely "trying to draw a contrast of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on innocent people." As the day would go on, Spicer would send out two updated versions of that statement, changing "innocent people" to "population centers" (as Hitler did use chemical weapons on innocent people) in the second statement and then adding "Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable" in the third statement.

Finally, the spokesman made a full apology in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "Frankly, I mistakenly made an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which there is no comparison," Spicer said. "And for that I apologize. It was a mistake to do that." He continued: "My goal now and then is to stay focused on Assad and I should have. I realized that I had made a mistake and I didn't want to be a distraction to the President's agenda."

Spicer was widely criticized after the original remarks, drawing calls for his firing from the Anne Frank Center and from congressional Democrats including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Republicans Keep Control of Kansas House Seat State Treasurer Ron Estes (R) won the special election in Kansas' 4th congressional district on Tuesday, maintaining GOP control of the seat vacated by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. However, Estes' win was only by single-digits, with Democratic attorney James Thompson putting up a strong challenge in the deep-red district.

Estes won with 52.5% of the vote to Thompson's 45.7%, a margin of victory of just under seven percentage points. By comparison, Pompeo's 2016 re-election margin was more than 31 percentage points (60.7% to 29.6%), while President Trump won the district by 27 points (60% to 33%).

Thompson was also able to win the district's most populous county, Sedgwick County, which is where Wichita is located, by 1%. Trump won there by 18%, Pompeo by 24%. That change is worrying for Republicans, who had to pour money into the special election in its final week, with a $92,000 ad buy, visits from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and robo-calls by President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. National Democrats, by comparison, spent very little money on the race; some blamed them for the loss, while others claimed that adding resources wouldn't have helped the party's hopes.

Special elections are often indicative of the nation's mood and political environment, and Thompson's success is being largely attributed to renewed Democratic energy after the November presidential election. Republicans now look ahead to Georgia's 6th congressional district, where a special election will be held next week to fill HHS Secretary Tom Price's seat. Democratic candidate JonOsoff, a political newcomer like Thompson, has raised over $8 million, benefiting off of Donald Trump's unpopularity. The seat is much less reliably Republican, which is concerning for the GOP after just scraping by in a district that was solidly GOP.

Russia/Wiretapping Two stories from Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning on the wiretapping allegations and the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia:

  • CNN: "Classified docs contradict Nunes surveillance claims, GOP and Dem sources say" "After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, multiple sources in both parties tell CNN."
  • "Their private assessment contradicts President Donald Trump's allegations that former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice broke the law by requesting the 'unmasking' of US individuals' identities. Trump had claimed the matter was a 'massive story.'"
  • Washington Post: "FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page" "The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said."
  • "The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials."
  • "This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents."

Buzz Quote: Bannon On the Way Out? President Donald Trump in an interview with the New York Post, on White House chief strategist Steve Bannon: “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary. Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will.”

Trump's comment is largely being interpreted as a sign that Bannon's removal remains likely, even after a temporary truce between the former Breitbart chairman and Trump's son-in-law turned senior advisor Jared Kushner.

The President's Schedule At 10:30am, President Trump will receive his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office.

At 11:30am, he will meet with House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

Trump will spend the rest of his day with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, meeting with him one-on-one and then with a larger delegation, before holding a joint press conference with him. According to the White House, Trump and Stoltenberg will "talk about how to strengthen the alliance to cope with challenges to national and international security." The President has been critical of NATO in the past, labeling the alliance "obsolete" and calling for its other 27 members to pay more in dues (the U.S. currently pays more than any other nation). Trump will betraeling to the NATO meeting in Burssels next month.