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Wake Up To Politics - April 12, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, April 12, 2018. 208 days until Election Day 2018. 936 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

House Speaker Paul Ryan won't seek re-election

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced Wednesday that he will not be seeking re-election in November and plans to retire from Congress at the end of his current term.

Although it had been rumored for months, Ryan's decision shocked Washington and further demoralized Republicans already fearful of a "blue wave" in November. When Ryan steps down, he will be opting to end a 26-year career in Washington that was marked by his quick rise from congressional aide to congressman to vice presidential nominee to — for the last two and a half years, without seeking the position — Speaker of the House. At age 48, he now plans to return to Janesville, Wisconsin in January, claiming to have no interest in a political future.  

The move also marks a shift in the Republican Party, a victory for "Trumpism" over Ryan's once-dominant traditional conservative ideology.

Ryan told reporters that his retirement was for family reasons, hoping to spend more time with his three teenage children. "I have accomplished much of what I came here to do, and my kids aren't getting any younger," Ryan said at a news conference after breaking the news to House Republicans in a closed-door meeting. "What I realized is if I serve for one more term, my kids will only have known me as a weekend dad."

The speaker denied that the possibility of Democrats winning back the House played a role in his decision, insisting that he was confident that Republicans would maintain control of the lower chamber. However, Ryan's announcement was another blow to Republican donors and lawmakers who worry that anti-Trump enthusiasm on the left will result in Democrats retaking the speaker's gavel.

Ryan is one of 39 House Republicans who are not seeking re-election in November, the most retirements one party has had in any election cycle since World War II, with the exception of 1992. The speaker's announcement that he is stepping down is likely to trigger even more retirements; in fact, just hours after he went public, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) followed, announcing that he would not be seeking a fifth congressional term.

With Ryan out of the way, his Wisconsin district may even flip parties, with Democrat Randy Bryce gaining national attention for his campaign and no leading Republican candidate immediately clear.  

Ryan's departure also sets up a potentially fierce battle to be the next Republican leader, with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), the No. 2 and No. 3 House Republicans, respectively, seen as the likely frontrunners. According to Axios, which was first to report the news of his retirement, Ryan may be forced to step down from the speakership by the summer, despite insisting Wednesday that he would remain in office through January.

"Members need certainty and they don’t want to operate until November in a climate where every move from every member of leadership is viewed through the prism of jostling for the speakership," Axios reported. "Our sources say that could pull an already divided conference even further apart."

President Trump could play a large role in the leadership battle, if he chooses to weigh in. McCarthy is seen as being very close to the president, although Trump likes Scalise as well — in Trump's eyes, either lawmaker is probably an upgrade from Ryan, with whom the president clashed during the 2016 campaign and reportedly never forgave.

However, on Wednesday, Trump praised Ryan on Twitter. "Speaker Paul Ryan is a truly good man, and while he will not be seeking re-election, he will leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question," he tweeted. "We are with you Paul!" Later, he posted a picture of the entire Republican congressional leadership smiling and flashing thumbs-up after sharing dinner at the White House, McCarthy and Scalise standing side by side.

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The Rundown

In a tweet this morning, President Donald Trump pushed back on a New York Times report that he sought to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in December. "If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December...I would have fired him," the president said. "Just more Fake News from a biased newspaper!"

Trump's outside allies are increasingly calling for the removal of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and oversees his investigation. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is supporting this move, according to the Washington Post, as are a slew of Fox News anchors frequently watched by the president. On Wednesday, Trump urged his Twitter followers to tune in to Sean Hannity's Fox News broadcast; during the show, attorney Joseph diGenova — who nearly joined the president's legal team and still advises the president, on television and in person — called for Rosenstein to be fired.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill to protect Mueller was advanced on Wednesday, with Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announcing that his panel would vote on the measure as soon as next week. The legislation would allow a fired special counsel to appeal their removal to a panel of judges, which could opt to reinstate the ousted investigator.

--- More on the Cohen raid: The FBI agents who raided the home and office of President Turmp's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, "were seeking details on his relationship with the Trump campaign and his efforts to suppress negative information about Trump," the New York Times reported. The search warrant included a demand for documents relating to the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, as well as materials relating to "hush agreemnts" Cohen made with women who alleged to have sex encounters with Trump.

In another early-morning tweet today, Trump clarified a Wednesday missive declaring that U.S. airstrikes "will be coming" for Syria. "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place," he tweeted this morning. "Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our 'Thank you America?'"

Missouri politicians from both parties called for Gov. Eric Greitens (R-MO) to resign on Wednesday, after a bombshell state House committee report was released. The report graphically recounted the testimony of Greitens' former hairdresser, who alleges that the future governor violently coerced her into non-consensual sexual activity and took a half-naked photograph of her as blackmail. In a statement just before the report's release, Greitens called the investigation into his conduct a "political witch hunt" and said the report contained "lies and falsehoods."

State House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-MO) pushed back on Greitens' claims, declaring that the investigative committee "is not a witch hunt," and announcing plans to call a special session to take up the panel's forthcoming recommendations on its "beyond disturbing" report. The committee's recommendations could include impeachment. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R-MO), the likely Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, said Wednesday that the report contained "certainly impeachable" details and urged Greitens to "resign immediately."

Deputy national security adviser Nadia Schadlow resigned on Wednesday, becoming the third official to depart in national security adviser John Bolton's first week on the job. Schadlow, who was close to Bolton's predecessor H.R. McMaster, follows White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert and National Security Council spokesperson Michael Anton. According to reports, Bossert was pushed out and Anton was slated to be fired. Bolton is expected to continue reviewing the NSC staff and potentially force other exits.


Trump: At 11am, President Trump meets with governors and members of Congress. At 1:45pm, he gives remarks on "tax cuts for American workers."

Senate: The upper chamber convenes at 9:15am. At 9:30am, the Senate will hold two roll call votes: on confirmation of Patrick Pizzella to be Deputy Secretary of Labor, and a cloture vote on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be a Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pizella served in the Labor Department under George W. Bush and in the Education Department under Ronald Reagan; he was also appointed by Barack Obama as a member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Wheeler is an attorney and former aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).

--- Also today: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold its confirmation hearing at 10am to consider President Trump's nominee to be Secretary of State, CIA Director Mike Pompeo. He is expected to face tough questioning from senators about his hawkish views on foreign policy.

House: The lower chamber meets at 10am today. The House is set to consider H.J.Res. 2, a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Consitution, "prohibiting total outlays for a fiscal year from exceeding total receipts for that fiscal year unless Congress authorizes the excess by a three-fifths roll call vote of each chamber." The amendment would also require three-fifths votes in both chambers to increase the debt limit and a majority vote to raise taxes, and would require the President to submit a balanced budget to Congress annually. If a declaration of war is in effect, these requirements would be waived.

Constitutional amendments require the support of two-thirds of both chambers of Congress, as well as three-fourths of state legislatures, to go into effect, a high bar that the balanced budget amendment is unlikely to clear due to its minimal Democratic support. The measure has long been a plank on the Republican platform, although today's vote comes after the Congressional Budget Office projected earlier this week that the federal deficit will surpass $1 trillion by 2020 due to the tax reform and omnibus spending bills, both of which were ushered to passage by congressional Republicans and signed into law by President Trump.

*All times Eastern