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Wake Up To Politics - April 25, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, April 25, 2018. 195 days until Election Day 2018. 923 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

White House defends embattled VA nominee

President Trump's nominee to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs, White House physician Ronny Jackson, was reportedly chosen without a formal interview or vetting process, tapped due to his close relationship with the president despite the objections of chief of staff John Kelly and other aides. He already faced skepticism from veterans groups and senators of both parties about whether he had the experience necessary to manage the second-largest bureaucracy in the federal government, a sprawling agency with 360,000 employees and a $186 billion annual budget and the often-difficult mandate of providing health care to America's veterans.

But this week, his nomination became mired in a host of other problems, as rumors began to surface about allegations of misconduct against the barely-vetted Jackson, who is a rear admiral in the Navy and has served as a White House doctor since 2006. Here's the latest:

--- Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and ranking member Jon Tester (D-MT) formally announced on Tuesday that "in light of new information presented to the committee," Jackson's confirmation hearing would be postponed indefinitely. "We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for consideration," the two senators said. "We will continue looking into these serious allegations and have requested additional information from the White House to enable the committee to conduct a full review." The hearing was supposed to be held today.

--- Isakson and Tester also sent a letter to President Trump requesting "all documentation pertaining to Rear Admiral Jackson's service in the White House Medical Unit and as Physician to the President," including inspector general reports.

--- Tester detailed the allegations in an interview with NPR's "All Things Considered," telling host Ari Shapiro that they fall into three categories of misconduct: creating a hostile work environment as a White House doctor, drinking while on duty, and improperly prescribing drugs to staff. According to Tester, more than 20 military employees came forward to notify the committee of the allegations, which have yet to be substantiated. "We didn't initiate this discussion," Tester said.

--- The allegations about excessive drinking largely focus on events that took place on overseas trips with the president. "We were told stories where he was repeatedly drunk while on duty where his main job was to take care of the most powerful man in the world," Tester said. "That's not acceptable."

--- According to the New York Times, "On one trip during Barack Obama’s presidency, White House staff needed to reach Dr. Jackson for medical reasons and found him passed out in his hotel room after a night of drinking." Also, per CNN, "During an overseas trip in 2015, [Jackson] was intoxicated and banged on the hotel room door of a female employee... The incident became so noisy, one source familiar with the allegation told CNN, that the Secret Service stopped him out of concern that he would wake then-President Barack Obama."

--- The allegation about dispensing medication also focuses on overseas trips. Tester told CNN's Anderson Cooper that Jackson was known as "the candy man" inside the White House because he would "hand out...prescription drugs like they were candy" on long flights, giving Ambien and Provigil to anyone who wanted them.

--- Meanwhile, the allegation about a hostile work enivronment is detailed in a 2012 Navy inspector general report obtained by the Associated Press, which accuses Jackson and a rival physician of exhibiting "unprofessional behaviors" during a power struggle in the White House Medical Unit. Per AP, "The six-page report...found a lack of trust in the leadership and low morale among staff members, who described the working environment as 'being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce.'" The report suggested that the White House consider replacing Jackson or the other doctor, or both.

--- White House response: President Trump seemed to open the door for Jackson to withdraw during a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron. "I wouldn't do it," Trump said. "What does he need it for?  To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country? I really don't think, personally, he should do it. But it's totally his -- I would stand behind him -- totally his decision." But later Tuesday, the president met with Jackson in the Oval Office; according to reports, the nominee decided that he would not withdraw and the White House decided to agressively defend him, calling his record "impeccable." The White House also distributed President Obama's glowing evaluations of Jackson, which call him a "consummate professional" and a "great leader."

--- Jackson's response: "I'm looking forward to getting [the hearing] rescheduled and answering everybody's questions," Jackson told reporters before meeting with a Republican senator on Tuesday. Jackson also denied that there was an inspector general report about the allegations, although AP would later report on one. Meanwhile, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) said that Jackson told him Tuesday that "he has never had a drink while on duty."

--- McConnell's response: Will Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) move forward with the nomination? "I haven't gotten a signal [from the White House] yet, we're waiting for a signal."

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The Rundown

The Courts

--- A federal judge said Tuesday that President Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was based on "virtually unexplained" grounds, ruling that the DACA protections must stay in place and that the U.S. government must continue accepting new applications for the program. The judge, a George W. Bush appointee, stayed his decision for 90 days to give the Department of Homeland Security an opportunity to better explain its reasoning. He is the third judge to order that the DACA protections remain in place, but the first to order that new applications be accepted.

The Midterms

--- Republican Debbie Lesko won the Tuesday special election in Arizona's 8th congressional district, providing the GOP a victory after losses in Alabama and Pennsylvania elections. However, Lesko only beat Democrat Hiral Tipirneni by six percentage points, 53% to 47%, a much closer margin than President Trump's 21-point victory in the district in 2016. According to a New York Times graphic, the GOP has lost significant support in every congressional special election since Trump became president (compared to previous elections), a trend that gives Democrats hope heading into the November midterms.

The Administration

--- Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told banking industry executives on Tuesday that as a congressman, he only met with lobbyists who contributed to his campaign. "We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress," Mulvaney, a former Republican representative from South Carolina, said. "If you're a lobbyist who never gave us a money, I didn't talk to you. If you're a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you."

The Investigations

--- According to FBI Director James Comey's leaked memos, President Trump repeatedly insisted to him that the salacious "golden shower" allegation couldn't be true because he didn't stay overnight in Moscow during the 2013 trip when the encounter with prostitutes supposedly took place. But that appears to be false: according to Bloomberg, flight records and social media posts suggest that he did stay overnight. In addition, the host of the 2012 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow (which was the reason for Trump's visit) confirmed to the Daily Beast that Trump stayed for at least one full night.

--- Related: "Trump keeps saying he’s innocent. So why does he keep sounding like he’s guilty?" (Washington Post)

The Congress

--- The Senate confirmed Kyle Duncan to be a judge on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, President Trump's 15th appeals judge to be confirmed, far outpacing his predecessors in confirmations at this point in their presidencies.

Happening Today

Supreme Court: The Supreme Court holds its last scheduled oral arguments of this year's term today. The court is set to hear Trump vs. Hawaii, a challenge to the third version of President Trump's "travel ban" prohibiting entry into the U.S. for most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. For the first time, the nine justices will consider the legality of the "travel ban"; the court has previously allowed Trump Administration requests to undo lower court orders blocking the ban, but hasn't yet heard arguments on the ban's legal merits.  

The lead challenger in the case is the state government of Hawaii, which argues that the ban violates federal immigration laws and the Establishment Clause of the Consitution, which blocks the government from favoring a religion. The state says that the ban does so by impacting mostly majority-Muslim nations, using Trump's statements as a candidate calling for a "shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" as proof of intent.

White House: President Trump meets with Apple CEO Tim Cook at 1:45pm today. Cook, who was a guest at Tuesday night's state dinner at the White House, was a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has criticized Trump Administration actions, such as the rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

--- White House press secretary Sarah Sanders holds an on-camera press briefing at 2pm.

Congress: President Emmanuel Macron of France will address a Joint Meeting of Congress at 10am in the House chamber today, with the entire memberships of the House and Senate in attendance.

The Senate is also scheduled to consider the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State today. Cloture was filed on Pompeo's nomination Tuesday, after he was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a 10-9 vote. A cloture vote on Pompeo is expected to occur on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the House is scheduled to consider the Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, "to impose additional sanctions with respect to serious human rights abuses of the Government of Iran"; the Music Modernization Act, "to modernize copyright law"; and a bill setting an operation plan for the Federal Columbia River Power System .

*All times Eastern