9 min read

Wake Up To Politics - April 3, 2017

By Gabe Fleisher

Monday, April 3, 2017582 Days until Election Day 2018
1,310 Days until Election Day 2020

Email: gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com | Website: wakeuptopolitics.com
Twitter: @WakeUp2Politics | Facebook: Wake Up To Politics

Happy April! Per presidential proclamation, this month is Cancer Control Month, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, National Donate Life Month, and National Financial Capability Month.

Senate Committee to Advance Gorsuch The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court today. With no Republican opposition, Gorsuch is widely expected to be approved by the panel, which has 11 Republicans and 9 Democrats. The committee will also vote today on the nominations of U.S. Attorney for the District Maryland Rod Rosenstein to be Deputy Attorney General and former Bush Administration official Rachel Brand to be Associate Attorney General.

Gorsuch is likely to be a Supreme Court justice by the end of the week, with a final confirmation vote scheduled for Friday. Before then, Democrats will see if they have the 41 votes needed to wage a filibuster. So far, a trio of Democrats have announced their support for Gorsuch: Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp ND), and Joe Manchin (WV). All three are facing re-election next year in states won comfortably by Donald Trump in 2016.

Over the weekend, other vulnerable Democrats announced that they would join the Gorsuch filibuster, including Jon Tester (MT) and Claire McCaskill (MO). To block Gorsuch from crossing the 60-vote threshold, four out of the six undecided Democrats - Michael Bennet (CO), Chris Coons (DE), Diane Feinstein (CA), Angus King (ME), Bob Menendez (NJ), and Mark Warner (VA) - need to join the filibuster. King is an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats; his vote is one of the most contested on the Gorsuch

If Democrats do block Gorsuch from reaching 60 votes, a fierce partisan showdown is expected, which will likely end with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) invoking the "nuclear option," which would eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Cour nominees. When Democrats held the majority, the filibuster was eliminated for all other presidential appointments.

In separate interviews on NBC's "Meet the Press," both McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sounded confident. "It's highly, highly unlikely that [Gorsuch will] get 60," Schumer declared. However, McConnell, in turn, made clear that Gorsuch will be confirmed, indicating that he would trigger the change in Senate rules if necessary: "Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week," he said. "How that happens really depends on our Democratic friends." While McConnell blasted Democrats for what he called a "partisan" filibuster, Schumer repeatedly referred to the fate of former President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, which Republicans blocked, proposing a consensus nominee be chosen bipartisanly since both parties will have seen their choices blocked.

Trump vs. Freedom Caucus The feud between President Donald Trump and the House Freedom Caucus, the group of conservatives he blames for the failure of the House GOP health care plan, intensified on Saturday with a threatening tweet from a top Trump aide. "[Trump] is bringing auto plants & jobs back to Michigan," White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino said. "[Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a Freedom Caucus member] is a big liability. #TrumpTrain, defeat him in primary."

Scavino's missive came after Trump himself on Wednesday signaled plans to challenge the conservatives. "The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!" he tweeted. Trump then went after three individual Freedom Caucus members in a series of tweets on Thursday: "If [Mark Meadows (R-NC), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Raul Labrador (R-ID)] would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts & reform," the President said. "Where are [Meadows, Jordan, and Labrador]?"

The official account for the Freedom Caucus responded, tweeting: "We are where we've always been: committed to keeping our promise." White House threats are unlikely to change that, although Republicans are holding meetings once again to discuss another push for repealing and replacing Obamacare. "It ain't over yet," Vice President Mike Pence told an Ohio audience on Saturday.

Trump himself got involved in the negotiations on Sunday, golfing with OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a top critic of the previous replacement plan. “We had a great day with the president. Played some golf, and we talked and we talked about a little bit of health care," Paul told reporters afterward. "I continue to be very optimistic that we are getting closer and closer to an agreement on repealing Obamacare.

The President tweeted on Sunday: "Anybody (especially Fake News media) who thinks that Repeal & Replace of ObamaCare is dead does not know the love and strength in R Party!...Talks on Repealing and Replacing ObamaCare are, and have been, going on, and will continue until such time as a deal is hopefully struck. "

--- Notable: Scavino has come under fire for his tweet, which ethics experts from both sides have interpreted as a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their position for political purposes. "This is use of official position to influence an election...Bush WH would have fired him," Richard Painter, George W. Bush's former ethics lawyer, tweeted. The White House responded, saying the account Savino tweeted from was a personal account. At the time of the Amash tweet, the account included Savino's official title and a link to his official account in the description, a profile photo of Scavino in the Oval Office, and a header photo featuring the presidential seal.

Palace Intrigue Meanwhile, the White House is still grappling with the aftermath of its health care loss. According to Politico, Vice President Pence, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, and NEC Director Gary Cohn have been meeting to "hold post-mortems about what went wrong" in the health care fight, with agreement that changes needed to be made. The Trump Administration's first major staffing shakeup came on Thursday, with the resignation of Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh, who is now advising the pro-Trump non-profit America First Priorities.

Walsh's exit was a loss for Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who has counted her as a key ally in the White House; Walsh was Priebus' top aide during his tenure as Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Many inside the White House blamed Priebus, and by extension, Walsh, for the health care defeat. Rumors also circulated over the weekend that Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs Rick Dearborn would be leaving, although the White House knocked these down.  

As Priebus has reportedly become diminished the eyes of the President, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner has seen his portfolio as Senior Advisor (a formal White House title) expanded. The New York Times was first to report on Sunday (with other news outlets following) that Kushner is currently in Iraq traveling with Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Kushner has increasingly taken on a role advising Trump on foreign policy, emerging as the lead U.S. negotiator in talks with both China and Mexico; the President has also said that Kushner will be in charge of negotiations to bring peace to the Middle East. In addition, BuzzFeed reported that he was meeting with lawmakers on criminal justice reform last week. Kushner was also appointed last week as head of the White House Office of American Innovation, which was created by Trump to use models from the private sector to reorganize the federal government.

Tweet, Tweet What is the President tweeting about today? Hillary Clinton, who else!

6:16am: "Was the brother of John Podesta paid big money to get the sanctions on Russia lifted? Did Hillary know?

6:21am: "Did Hillary Clinton ever apologize for receiving the answers to the debate? Just asking!"

Trump was referring to two controversies relating to his 2016 opponent: that her campaign chairman's brother had ties to a Russian bank, which Trump insinuated was connected to the Obama Administration's easing sanctions on Russia; and the revelation that Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, a CNN commentator, gave the Clinton campaign a heads-up on a question in a CNN forum.

Worth a read... The full transcript of President Trump's interview with Financial Times, which was published on Sunday. Some top quotes...

On his meeting with the Chinese president this week: "I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries and I hope so."

On alliances: "Alliances have not always worked out very well for us. But I do believe in alliances. I believe in relationships. And I believe in partnerships. But alliances have not always worked out very well for us. OK? "

On losing: "I don’t lose. I don’t like to lose."

On Obamacare: "They are negotiating right now...I promised the people great healthcare. We are going to have great healthcare in this country....And if we don’t get the...Freedom Caucus there that would be fine. They’re friends of mine. Many of them have already left, and many of them as you know have already given us their vote. But when you have zero Democrats, zero, you need close to 100 per cent of the Republicans...If we don’t get what we want, we will make a deal with the Democrats and we will have in my opinion not as good a form of healthcare, but we are going to have a very good form of healthcare and it will be a bipartisan form of healthcare."

On his Presidency: "I am really liking it. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed it. We have done a lot...We’re doing great."

On regretting his tweets: "I don’t regret anything, because there is nothing you can do about it. You know if you issue hundreds of tweets, and every once in a while you have a clinker, that’s not so bad."

On using social media: "I don’t have to go to the fake media."

On tariffs on China: "I don’t want to talk about tariffs yet, perhaps the next time we meet." On his North Korea strategy: "I’m not going to tell you." On a timeline for tax reform: "Well, I don’t want to talk about when and I don’t want to talk about timing."

Worth a watch... Journalist and WUTP subscriber Mark Halperin's conversation with a very civically informed 5th grade class about the Trump Administration on Showtimes' "The Circus."

The President's Schedule President Trump spends most of his day with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. The two will meet in the Oval Office at 11:55am, followed by a meeting in the Cabinet Room at 12:10pm with expanded delegations from both countries, and then a 1:10pm working luncheon in the State Dining Room.

"President Trump and President Al Sisi will use the visit to build on the positive momentum they have built for the United States-Egypt relationship," the White House said in a statement. "They will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues, including how to defeat ISIS and pursue peace and stability in the region." Trump and Sisi first met in September during the campaign, and Sisi was the first foreign leader to speak to Trump after the November election.

Finally, at 2:30pm, Trump will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the Oval Office.

Senate Schedule The chamber convenes at 3pm today. At 5:30pm, the Senate will vote on a bill providing an exception to the Safety of Life at Sea Act of 1966 so the historic Delta Queen steamboat can once again cruise the Mississippi River. The Delta Queen previously was given an exception to the law, which bars such ships from carrying passengers overnight, but it expired in 2008. The measure was sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), with supporters on both sides of the aisle and up and down the Mississippi.

After the vote, the Senate will begin debate on the nomination of Elaine Duke to be Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. Duke has served in the federal government for 28 years, most recently as Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Management from 2008 to 2010. She was approved by committee in a unanimous voice vote last month; the Senate will likely hold a confirmation vote on Tuesday. If confirmed, Duke will be the 22nd Trump appointee to be approved by the upper chamber, according to the Washington Post.

House Schedule Meanwhile, the lower chamber will convene at 12pm. Votes on three bills, all focused on foreign affairs, are scheduled: the North Korea State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act, which would add North Korea to the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list (which currently includes Iran, Sudan, and Syria; North Korea was removed in 2008); a resolution condemning North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile tests and calling for enhanced sanctions against the country; and a resolution "Reaffirming the United States-Argentina partnership and recognizing Argentina’s economic reforms ."

Today's Trivia Not on the President's schedule today...throwing out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals' Opening Day game. Who is the only President since William Howard Taft to never throw an Opening Day first pitch during their tenure? Every other Chief Executive since eTaft has thrown at least one, although many (most recently Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan) have skipped the first opportunity of their presidency, so President Trump still has plenty of time to continue the tradition.

Email trivia@wakeuptopolitics.com with your answer; correct respondents get their name in tomorrow's newsletter!

By the way... For Cubs fan Randy Fleisher: the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs, 4-3, in their opening game last night.