Wake Up To Politics - April 19, 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.
I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Tuesday, April 18, 2017. 567 days until Election Day 2018. 1,295 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!
Today is Tax Day, since April 15 (the usual date) fell on a weekend and Monday was Emancipation Day (a holiday in D.C. marking the date that slavery was ended there). File your taxes!
Speaking of taxes... Spicer questioned on White House transparency Just like everyone else, President Donald Trump also has to file his taxes today. But, in a break with tradition, he won't be releasing his returns. Every President since Richard Nixon has released their tax returns, but White House press secretary Sean Spicer made clear on Monday that Trump still did not plan to follow in the tradition, in keeping with his refusal to do so during the campaign.
Why? Spicer cited the same IRS audit that Trump has referred to before, claiming that it precluded the President from releasing his tax returns. However, the IRS has said that individuals under audit are free to release their tax returns. In fact, USA Today pointed out on Monday that all presidents' tax returns are immediately audited, which did not stop Trump's modern predecessors from releasing them regardless. Asked if President Trump would ever release his tax returns, Spicer responded: “We’ll have to get back to you on that."
The press secretary was also hit with questions on the Trump Administration's refusal to release records of the White House visitor logs, which the Obama White House did for eight years. Spicer dismissed the necessity of the visitor logs, saying their release under Obama was "not really an honest attempt" at transparency and that no president before Obama released them. Spicer also defended the Administration's decision due to reasons of national security.
The President's Schedule President Donald Trump heads out of the White House bubble today, departing for Milwaukee, Wisconsin at 12pm Eastern Time. He will touch down in Milwaukee at 1:15pm; at 2pm, the President will tour the headquarters of Snap-On Tools, a tool manufacturer in Kenosha, located in House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)'s congressional district. White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday called Snap-On "a prime example of a company that builds American-made tools with American workers for U.S. taxpayer."
At 2:20pm, Trump will deliver remarks on manufacturing at Snap-On Tools, before signing an executive order directing federal agencies to take steps towards implementing his "Buy American, Hire American" initiative at 2:50pm. Most notably, the order will ask for proposals on reforming H-1B visas, which are given to foreign nationals to work in the United States for high-skill jobs, generally in science, technology, or engineering.
The President will depart Milwaukee at 3:45pm Central Time, arriving back at the White House at 6:45pm Eastern Time.
--- According to the New York Times, this will be the eighth state Trump has visited since taking office. By comparison, President Barack Obama had visited nine states and three foreign countries at this point in his term; President George W. Bush had visited 23 states and one foreign country. President Trump will make his first foreign trip next month, for the NATO meeting in Brussels.
--- What POTUS is reading: "Trump spurs small-business optimism in Milwaukee area," a headline in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday. President Trump tweeted the article, adding, "See you tomorrow Wisconsin!"
High-Stakes Special Election in Georgia Voters in Georgia's 6th congressional district will head to the polls today in a high-stakes special election to pick a replacement for Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price. The race, being held in a district won by President Trump by only 1.5% in 2016 (even as Price won re-election by 23%), is seen as a referendum on the first three months of the Trump Administration and will be closely watched for signs it might provide about the nation's mood and the 2018 elections.
Today's election will use the "blanket primary" system, meaning all candidates from both parties will be on the same ballot. If no candidate gets over 50% of the vote, the top two advance to a runoff election in June. The main Democratic candidate is former congressional aide Jon Ossoff, 30, while Republicans have at least six major candidates. According to RealClearPolitics, Ossoff averages at 43% in polling, followed by former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel at 17%, businessman Bob Gray at 13%, and then the rest of the GOP field.
The race has gotten national attention from both sides, with Democrats itching for a victory after widespread losses in November and Republicans hoping to prove that they can maintain their House majority. If polling is correct, Ossoff will likely end the race somewhere in the 40's, but margin matters: Democrats hope he can get to at least 45%, showing momentum ahead of the runoff (Hillary Clinton received 46.8%). Any percentage below that would show a difficult path ahead for Ossoff. Polls show a razor-thin race between Ossoff and either Handel or Gray. There is a slim chance that Ossoff could clinch the election today, although many disregard that scenario.
Democrats have poured money into the race: Ossoff has reported over $8 million in fundraising, a huge amount for a House election. Although they don't have a candidate yet, national Republicans have also been urging Georgians to vote: President Donald Trump tweeting a number of times about the race and recorded a robocall asking voters to "stop the Washington liberals from taking your Congressional seat and your money and your safety."
--- Polls will be open from 7am to 7pm Eastern Time...WUTP will have full results in tomorrow's newsletter...
Gorsuch Joins Oral Arguments as a Justice Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch joined his first oral arguments from the bench on Monday, hearing three cases a week after being sworn in to the nation's highest court. Gorsuch wasted no time jumping in to the proceedings; according to Supreme Court scholar Adam Feldman, Gorsuch spoke up in the 11th minute of his first oral argument, and asked 22 questions of the lawyers, more than any of the other sitting justices in their first cases. Gorsuch, 49, is no stranger to oral arguments: he comes from the Supreme Court after nearly 11 years on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Today, Gorsuch and his fellow eight justices will hear oral arguments in two cases: Henson v. Santander Consumer USA Inc., which asks whether debt buyers should be regulated as debt collectors under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act; and Kokesh v. SEC, which asks whether a limitation period applies to SEC disgorgement claims.
Shutdown Clock... We are now TEN DAYS away from the expiration of the current government funding package on April 28; if no new funding plan is passed by then, the federal government will shut down. Where are the House and Senate? On a two-week recess: the latter returns on April 24, the former on April 25.
The Republican Party is divided on what changes to make in the temporary spending bill needed to keep the government open: the White House wants funding for the President's proposed border, the House Freedom Caucus is demanding that the measure defund Planned Parenthood, while Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his allies are threatening a shutdown if military spending is not increased.
Ryan's issue: Planned Parenthood is unlikely to be defunded in the measure, due to opposition to such a provision by a number of moderate GOP senators. If it is not included, much of the House Freedom Caucus would likely defect and vote against a funding plan. If that happens, Speaker Ryan would be forced to rely on Democratic votes to keep the government open - votes he will only get if the border wall is also not funded, making it possible that zero Republican priorities will be achieved in the spending bill.
In the Hopper Interesting bills recently filed in Congress...
From the left: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced H.R.2093 to add to the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which gives a majority of Cabinet officers the right to declare the President unfit. Under Blumenauer's bill, former presidents and vice presidents would also get a say in the decision, since the President could fire his Cabinet.
From the right: Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) introduced H.R. 2090, which would require photo ID for voting in federal elections, a step many states have already taken.
Today's Trivia This is the 242nd anniversary of Paul Revere's famous ride. But Revere wasn't the only one who warned Americans of the British army's arrival on this night in 1775...name one of the other colonists who performed the same task alongside him.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your answer; correct respondents get their name in tomorrow's newsletter!