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Wake Up To Politics - April 6, 2017

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I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom.  It's Thursday, April 6, 2017. 579 days until Election Day 2018. 1,307 days until Election Day 2020. This is the 100th anniversary of the United States' declaring war on Germany, which formally entered the U.S. into World War I. Also today, per presidential proclamation: all flags will fly at half-staff to honor former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn, who will be laid to rest at Arlington Nation Cemetery this morning.

Nuclear Showdown Today A fight that has been brewing since Justice Antontin Scalia's death last February will come nearly to a close today, as Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is expected to be advanced to a final Senate confirmation vote. That fight has continued under two Presidents and two Senate Minority Leaders, produced two nominees, and resulted in increased animosty between the two parties in what was once known as the "world's greatest deliberative body."

Really, though, the battle on judicial nominations has been going strong for much longer, escalating in recent years after then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) invoked the "nuclear option" to lower threshold needed for debate to end on judicial confirmations (except for Supreme Court), from a three-fifths majority (60 votes) to a simple majority (51). Reid's move came in light of Republican delays on confirming Obama judges, and partly spurred the Republican ploy to block Judge Merrick Garland, Obama's nominee for the Scalia seat, from receving a hearing or vote.

Partly as a result of that delay, Democrats have taken the rare step of fillibustering Judge Gorsuch, the latest in a long string of bipartisan moves away from precedent and towards antagonism on Supreme Court nominations.

Today, the Senate will be changed forver, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continues what Reid started, destroying the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. If the Senate finalizes this move to trigger the "nuclear option" today, many say the prestige of the chamber will be lost; some see this act as a sign that the legislative filibuster will soon be repealed as well, which would put the Senate in the same league as the House, where bills can advance much quicker, needing only a simple majority. But the more immediate consequences could be grave as well: nominees to the nation's highest court will now need just 51 votes to advance, likely giving way to more extreme picks who will be assured easier confirmation if Presidents don't have to worry about overcoming a 60-vote threshold.

While members on both sides of the aisle have spent recent days bemonaing the breakdown in Senate procedure, no one has stepped up to craft a deal. Neither side is willing to budge from its position: Democrats will not confirm Gorsuch and Republicans refuse to surrender him.

"We are standing on the brink of an irrevocable change to the way this body conducts business," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reproters Wednesday. "I, for one, would like to see us step back from the brink." Still, he said, the Democratic filibuster putting the Senate on the brink of destruction would go on.

"We are in a terrible place," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) declared from the Senate floor on Wednesday. "I believe our actions will haunt us." In recent days, McCain also called the nuclear option a "body blow" that will do "perhaps irreparable damage" to the Senate. Still, he said, he would vote to invoke the nuclear option he has railed against.

More in "Senate Schedule" below...

Palace Intrigue: Bannon Out at NSC White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News and one of the most controversial figures in the Trump Administration, has been removed from his seat on the National Security Council's Principals Committe, a significant demotion for the once-dominant adviser.

Bannon's removal was first reported by Bloomberg, which obtained a Federal Register notice of a presidential memorandum filed Tuesday which makes multiple changes to the Principals Committee's makeup. While Bannon was removed, the Director of National Intelligence, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Director of the CIA, Ambassador to the UN, and Secretary of Energy were all added to the body. Many of those officials were historically a part of the NSC, but were removed by an earlier January memorandum by President Trump.

The move is also a victory for National Seucirty Advisor H.R. McMaster, who now has tighter control over the NSC without Bannon threatening his authority. In addition, the memorandum gave McMaster authority to chair meetings of the NSC Pincipals Committee and the Homeland Security Council, demoting Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert. Also bolstered in the shake-up: former Goldman Sachs official Dina Powell, a White House advisor close to Ivanka Trump, who was given a seat on the NSC Deputies Committee.

Bannon's addition to the Prncipals Committee in January was widely panned at the time by Democrats and Republicans fearful of the nationalist ideologue sitting in on top national security meetings. It was seen as a show of Bannon's dominant stature in the Trump White House, a status that he has lost in recent days as senior advisor Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, has expanded his portfolio. According to the New York Times, Bannon has taken a backseat role in the health care fight to more experineced politicians in the Administration, while increasingly warring with Kushner and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn.

A senior administration official told Politico, "big fight is between the nationalists [Bannon, and his allies Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka) and the 'West Wing Democrats' [Kushner, Cohn, and Powell]." The latter faction appears to be winning. rThe Times also reported that Bannon threatened to resign if President Trump signed off on the NSC demotion; according to Politico, GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, who has longtime ties to bannon and others in Trump's inner circle, convinced him to remain at the White House.

Bannon and his allies sought to explain his removal as a natural progession of the NSC, transiting from the leadership of Michael Flynn, Trump's first National Security Advisor, to McMaster. "Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration,” Bannon said in a statement. “I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function.” No hint was given as to what "operationalized " meant, although mutliple news outlets reported that Bannon's role was essentially to monitor Flynn. McMaster chafed at the thought of a political strategist keeping an eye on him, a three-star general.

Congress Leaving Town Without Deals on Health Care, Spending After a brief spurt of meetings this week, Republican hopes of repealing and replacing Obamacare seem they have been put to rest once again. Negotations between the White House, the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and moderate Tuesday Group have failed to produce a compromise, making it unlikey that a bill could be put to a vote today, as GOP leaders had hoped.

However, Republicans aren't yet admitting defeat. The House Rules Committee plans to meet today to add an amendment to the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the House GOP bill that went down two weeks ago, lacking the votes from Republicans, an embarrasing defeat for Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan. "It’s alive, and we’re making progress,” Ryan said of the bill on NPR on Wednesday. "[But] it’s going to take a little bit of time.” According to the Washington Post, the hearing was set up at Trump's request after a late-night meeting with Speaker Ryan.

The panel would be adding an amendment to create "high-risk pools," federal insurance for individuals with serious conditions," a provision that seems to have gained support from most House Republican groups. However, the Post repoted, "some House members...see the provision as a companion to potentially allowing states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s ban on charging those patients higher premiums, known as 'community rating.'" Conservatives and modrates have been fighting over the "communty rating" ban, which the Freedom Caucus insists should be repealed and mdoerates say must be kept.

A White House proposal to allow states to opt out of the "communty rating" ban has not gained widespread suppot in the House GOP caucus, despite numerous meetings Vice President Pence has held with mebers.

The House leaves for Easter break after today's session, while the Senate leaves tomorrow; neither chamber wil return until April 24. That is perilosusly close to the deadline of another issue Congress must soon deal with: the expiration of government funding, which is set to run out on April 28.

Republicans have also not been able to agree on a spending bill to extend funding, with the White House hoping to include some of Trump's proposed boosts to defense and cuts to domestic agencies. The Freedom Caucus is calling for Planned Parenthood to be defunded in the spending bill, which many moderates say is unacceptable. As a result of the GOP infighting, republican leaders may have to turn to Democrats to provide votes on the measure. As a sresult, according to CBS, Republicans are mostly ignoing Preisdent Trump's dramatic budget proposal.

Straight from the Source: Sessions on Violent Crime A memorandum by Attorney General Jeff Sessions made public earlier this week directed the Justice Department to review its reform agreements with police departments (including Ferguson and Baltimore) that have come under fire in recent years. Sessions ordered that the Obama-era agreements be reviewed to "ensure that these pacts do not work against the Trump administration’s goals of promoting officer safety and morale while fighting violent crime," according to the Washington Post.

I heard directly from Attorney General Sessions about those goals when he addressed a group of law enforcement officers at the Eagleton Courthouse in St. Louis last week. Sessions' remarks focused on nationwide trends showing an increase in violent crime rates, pointing to FBI data that said the violent crime rate increased by 3% from 2014 to 2015, the largest increase in one year in over three decades.

"These numbers should trouble all of us," Sessions said. "Behind all the data are real people whose safety and lives are at stake...Each victim of this recent spike in violent crime is someone's parent, child, or friend. And every loss of a life to guns or drugs is a tragedy we must work to prevent."

“My fear is that this surge in violent crime in St. Louis, and throughout America, is not a ‘blip,’ but the start of a dangerous new trend,” the Attorney General continued. “Weneed to be honest about it and think about it...While we can hope for the best, hope is not a strategy. When crime rates move in the wrong direction, they can move fast.”

Sessions outlined three steps the Trump Administration was taking to reverse the rising crime rate: the creation of a Justice Department task force to craft solutions to the issue, boosting collaboration between federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, and a focus on confronting the U.S. heroin and opioid crisis. The Attorney General called for use of “every lawful tool we have to get the most violent criminal off the streets,” adding that “the more of those people who have proven they’re dangerous, who have proven they’re lawless and violent, that are in the slammer: the fewer the people who are going to get killed.”

“I don’t know many people that are likely to murder somebody in their lives. Do you?” he asked the audience.

Sessions sought to link the increase in violent crime with the surge in drug use(“there’s no two ways about it: drugs and crime go together”), expressing the need for another “Just Say No” campaign reminiscent of the one waged by First Lady Nancey Reagan in the 1980’s. “You cannot contain the growth in crime if you have heroin surging much greater than I’ve ever seen it out there,” he said, referring to CDC data showing that more Americans die every three weeks from overdoses than those who perished in the 9/11 attacks.

“What makes this crisis an epidemic is that it knows no zip code,” he declared. “Its victims are white and black and brown; they are in the city, the suburbs and the country; and they are rich, poor and everything in between.”

Sessions also spoke at length about the issues that gave rise to the police reform agreements he recently ordered a review of – speaking about 14 miles south of Ferguson, Missouri, where protests three years ago sparked the “Black Lives Matter” movement after the shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager by a white police officer. Ferguson, which Sessions called an “emblem of the tense relationship between law enforcement and the communities we serve,” is one of the highest-profile cities that struck one of the reform agreements with the Obama-era Justice Department.

Speaking in a vastly different tone than his predecessors in the Obama Administrationhad, Sessions said that police officers had been “unfairly maligned and blamed for the crimes and unacceptable deeds of a few in their ranks.” He also spoke of a trend (labeled “the Ferguson Effect by some scholars) which blames increased attention on the behaviors of police departments on less “proactive, up-close policing” where officers “get out of their squad cars and interact with people.”

While he acknowledged the need to address police misconduct, the Attorney General spoke much more about ensuring morale among police stayed high, repeating that “the vast majority of men and women in law enforcement are good and decent people.”

“We will have the backs of all honest and honorable law enforcement officers and prosecutors,” Sessions promised, offering assistance in the effort to reduce crime. “The recent surge in violent crime is real. The epidemic of heroin and opioid abuse is also real," he closed. "We can’t wish these problems away, or hope that things will get better on their own. Instead, we must act to ensure justice and safety for all Americans.”

The President's Schedule At 8:55am, President Trump will welcome the participants in the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride in the East Room, a White House tradition until 2008. At 10am, he will receive his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office.

At 12pm, Trump will depart the White House for the "Southern White House," his Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida. He will arrive in Florida at 2:35pm. According to the New York Times, this will be the 23rd day of his presidency that Trump will visit one of his properties.

At 6:30pm, the President and First Lady will have dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Madame Peng Liyuan. The dinner is the first event in two days of meetings between Trump and Xi. Trade will likely be the top issue of the summit; Trump frequently attacked China on the campaign trail and promised to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with the country.

"The meeting next week with China will be very a difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits...and job losses. American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives," Trump tweeted last week.

Senate Schedule The Senate will convene at 10am today. The chamber will open with remarks from both Leaders, and then hold an hour of debate (equally divided between the two parties) on the Gorsuch nomination.

At 11am, the chamber will hold a cloture vote on Gorsuch. Currently, he would need 60 "yea" votes to pass the cloture step. The vote will likely be 56-44, with four Democrats - Michael Bennet (CO), Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), and Joe Manchin (WV) - joining all 52 Republicans to vote to end debate on Gorsuch.

What will follow is a set of complicated procedural motions used by then-Majority Leader Reid in 2013 to invoke the "nuclear option" (although then he did not aply it to Supreme Court nominees): raising a pont of order to delcare that nominees need only 51 "yeas" for cloture, whch will likely be rejected by the chair, since it is counter to Senate Rule XXII. He then needs to ask that the Senate vote on the point of order. The Republican majority will overturn the chair's ruling - essentially changing the chamber's rules and enacting a 51-vote trehsold for all nominees - and then a second cloture vote will be held on Gorsuch.

He will likely get only 56 votes again; however, the precedent will have been established that he needs just 51. Democrats will likely do all the can to delay McConnell's triggering the "nuclear option" for the Supreme Court, delaying and appealing him at ever step. However, barring a last-minte agreement between the two sides (or votes against the rules change by GOP senators, which is not currently expected), McConnell will likely succeed by the end, and Gorsuch will advance.

Under Senate rules, 30 hours of post-cloture debate will then be in order, which will likely produce fireworks from both sides. Tomorrow, once that time has expired, Gorsuch is expected to be confirmed.

House Schedule The House has one vote scheduled today, on the Supporting America’s Innovators Act, which "amends an exemption under the Investment Company Act of 1940 by increasing the investor limitation from 100 to 205 people for qualifying venture capital funds," according to the bill's sponsor Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC). "The bill would eliminate a significant barrier facing small businesses and startups, instead incentivizing venture capital funds to grow their investments in rural-state entrepreneurs, helping local economies grow and thrive."

Today's Trivia When Congress declared war against Germany one hundred years ago today, 56 members voted against the resolution. Who was the only member of Congress who voted "nay" on that declaration, which entered the U.S. into World War I, AND on the 1941 declaration of war on Germany, which entered the U.S. into World War II?

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