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Wake Up To Politics - April 4, 2017

By Gabe Fleisher

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

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Tuesday, April 4, 2017. 581 days until Election Day 2018. 1,309 days until Election Day 2020. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 49 years ago today at the age of 39. President William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia on this day in 1841, ending a 31-day term in office.

Gorsuch Debate to Begin The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-9, along party lines, on Monday to send Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch's to the floor, setting up a "nuclear" showdown that will have long-lasting effects on the "world's greatest deliberative body."

Ahead of the floor debate on Gorsuch opening, Senate Democrats announced on Monday that they had enough votes to block the judge's nomination. 43 Democrats have announced their support for the filibuster; 41 were needed to ensure Gorsuch could not surpass the 60-vote threshold needed to end a filibuster. Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (CO), Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), and Joe Manchin (WV) have all publicly announced that they will not join the filibuster. Sen. Angus King (I-ME), who caucuses with the Democrats, has not yet made an announcement.

The Democratic filibuster now makes it almost certain that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will invoke the "nuclear option" in the coming days, a procedural maneuver that will change the Senate rules to end the minority's ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominees. The filibuster has already been ended for all other presidential nominees due to a similar rules change instituted by McConnell's predecessor Harry Reid (D-NV).

McConnell will likely make his move on Thursday, with a final confirmation vote set for Friday. A number of Senate Republicans have bemoaned the need to make such a drastic change to the chamber's procedures, but so far, none have announced opposition; McConnell can only afford to lose one GOPer in the vote to change the rules.

"It is depressing. I'm very depressed," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said. "We're all arguing against it, but we don't know any other option." Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) called the nuclear option "damaging to the Senate...and damaging to the country." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Monday, "this is going to be very bad." And Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told reporters on Monday, "If it's necessary in order to get him confirmed I may have to vote that way, but I certainly don't want to."

However, McConnell defended the need to invoke the nuclear option, labeling the Democratic blockade on Monday as "the first successful partisan filibuster in the history of the Senate." Democrats, meanwhile, have pointed to the treatment of former President Obama's nominee for the seat, Merrick Garland, who never got a hearing or vote in the Senate, as well as to positions of Gorsuch's they view as too outside the mainstream. “I cannot vote solely to protect an institution when the rights of hard-working Americans are at risk,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said on Monday, announcing his plans to join the filibuster, “because I fear that the Senate I would be defending no longer exists.”

GOP Restarts Health Care Negotiations Less than two weeks after withdrawing their Obamacare replacement, American Health Care Act (AHCA), Republicans have relaunched negotiations on health care. Vice President Mike Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney met with the moderate Tuesday Group and the hardline House Freedom Caucus on Monday, attempting to craft a repeal-and-replace bill acceptable to both groups.

The Freedom Caucus continues to call for full repeal of Obamacare, insisting on the repeal of the law's Essential Health Benefits (those that must be covered by insurance, including hospitalization, emergency room services, and maternity care) and community ratings requirement (which forces insurers to consider pools of people, not individuals, when setting premiums). The Tuesday Group, meanwhile, has signaled opposition to striking those provisions.

In their meetings Monday, the White House proposed a compromise: allowing states to apply for waivers to make these changes themselves, giving them the choice to opt in or out to key Obamacare provisions. The Secretary of Health and Human Services would have the authority to grant these exceptions. Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) said this was a "solid idea" that "intrigued" many of his members, while Tuesday Group leaders also seemed cautiously receptive to the proposal. "We're just talking," Priebus said as he walked out of the meeting with conservatives.

According to the Washington Examiner, the Trump Administration is hoping to release the text of a compromise bill sometime today.

--- The Huffington Post's Matt Fuller, who knows the House Freedom Caucus better than anybody (and predicted from early on that the AHCA would fail), tweeted yesterday: "I think there are better chances now that the House *does* pass the health care bill" that does not.

Russia: The Latest Two big stories that dropped on Monday...

"Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel," via The Washington Post: "The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince [a top Trump donor and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos] and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials."

"The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions."

"Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian...U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump."

"Top Obama Adviser Sought Names of Trump Associates in Intel," via Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake: "White House lawyers last month learned that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter."

"The pattern of Rice's requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government's policy on 'unmasking' the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally. Normally those names are redacted from summaries of monitored conversations and appear in reports as something like 'U.S. Person One.'"

"...The intelligence reports were summaries of monitored conversations -- primarily between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, but also in some cases direct contact between members of the Trump team and monitored foreign officials. One U.S. official familiar with the reports said they contained valuable political information on the Trump transition such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters and plans for the incoming administration."

The "unmasking" is common and not illegal, and it does not confirm Trump's allegation that the Obama Administration was wiretapping his transition team, but the report does raise questions as to whether Rice did so for political or national security reasons. Many Republicans have called for Rice to testify publicly and answer questions as to her motives.

2020 Watch Former Vice President Joe Biden announced on Monday that he is heading to the "first-in-the-nation" primary state later this month: he will deliver the keynote address at an annual New Hampshire Democratic Party fundraising dinner in Manchester on April 30. Biden has stayed active in public policy since leaving office in January, forming the Biden Foundation to advocate for a number of his pet causes, the Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware to lead research on domestic issues.

"Do I regret not being president? Yes," Biden said in response to a question at a Colgate University forum last month. "I was the best qualified.” The former Vice President also said " I think I could have won" the Democratic primary and "was fairly confident" he could have beat Donald Trump.

--- Also coming to New Hampshire soon: Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the last contender for the GOP presidential nomination last year. Kasich will be in the influential primary state as part of a book tour for his latest release, "Two Paths: America Divided or United." Is he planning a 2020 challenge to President Trump? "No," Kasich told CNN last month, adding: "I'm not really interested in running for political office again. I don't see it. I just don't see it."

---BUT...CNN's Chris Cillizza tweets: "No politician goes to Iowa or New Hampshire by accident."

Daily Data The Edward M. Kennedy Institute released a poll of 1,015 adults on Monday. The good news...51% of those surveyed said they have "personally taken action over the past two months to influence the government," including contacting their lawmakers, attending a protest or rally, donating to a public policy organization, or other actions.

The bad news...just 52% knew that each state has two Senators, and just 20% could name both of their Senators. Don't know your lawmakers? That's OK! Put in your address, and Ballotpedia's Elected Officials Lookup can tell you all of your state and federal representatives.

Number of the Day: $78,333.32 That's how much President Trump donated to the National Park Service today, equivalent to his salary for his first quarter in office. Trump promised during the campaign not to take one cent of the $400,000 presidential salary; he instead plans to donate it quarterly to different charities and federal agencies.

---AP's Julie Bykowicz with the math: "It would take 1,531 more Trump paychecks to make up for proposed [$2 billion+] budget cut to Interior. " According to the Washington Post's Amy Brittain, the amount is equivalent to the cost of 1-2 hours of the President's time at Mar-a-Lago.

GILMENTUM! According to the Washington Post, former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-VA) is a finalist to be U.S. Ambassador to Germany, a top diplomatic post. Gilmore was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, scoring 12 votes in the Iowa caucuses and 133 in the New Hampshire primary.

The President's Schedule President Donald Trump has a busy schedule today. 10am: daily intelligence briefing. 10:45am: town hall with CEOs "on the American business climate. 12:30pm: speech at the 2017 North America’s Building Trades Unions National Legislative Conference.

3pm: meeting with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. 4pm: meeting with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. 4:30pm: meeting wtih HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

4:45pm: meeting with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (D-CA), who is known for his pro-Russian leanings (and was dubbed "Putin's favorite congressman" by Politico last year). 5:15pm: meeting with Ralph Torres (R), the Governor of the Northern Mariana Islands.

--- From yesterday: this wasn't on the public schedule, but President Trump also signed four pieces of legislation on Monday. Three of them nullified Obama Administration rules via the Congressional Review Act, the 1996 law that allows Congress to strike down Executive Branch regulations within a certain time frame. Most notably, Trump signed a resolution striking down a Federal Communications Commission rule issued in December which required Internet Service Providers (ISPs) obtain permission from customers before selling their search history. Per CBS' Mark Knoller, Trump has now signed 11 resolutions into law striking down Obama-era regulations.

Senate Schedule The Senate will hold a confirmation vote today on the nomination of Elaine Duke to be Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. Duke has had nearly three decades of government experience, most recently as Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Management under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She was unanimously approved by committee three weeks ago.

Following the Duke vote, the Senate will recess for weekly caucus meetings. As indicated over, debate will formally begin today on Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court.

House Schedule The House will consider two bills today: the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act, which would enhance NOAA weather alerts; and the Encouraging Employee Ownership Act, which would require companies to disclose "certain information to some employees and investors who purchase securities issued by the company prior to their sale" if the value of securities issued by the company over a year-long period is over $10 million, according to Popvox. The current required amount is over $5 million; this bill would also adjust the amount every five years with inflation.

Today's Trivia Name at least one of the two U.S. Presidents in history to give up their salaries? Send me your answer to trivia@wakeuptopolitics.com; correct respondents get their name in tomorrow's newsletter!

Yesterday's Answer On Monday, the trivia question was...who is the only U.S. President since Taft to never throw out an Opening Day first pitch? The answer: Jimmy Carter, who missed all three opportunities he had to do so. Many Presidents, however, have missed Opening Day on their first year, including Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan, and now President Trump.

GREAT JOB...Sami Remis, Marlee Millman, Joan Zucker, Steve Gitnik, Rashida Doctor, Joe Bookman, Brad Chotiner, and Rick Isserman!!!