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Wake Up To Politics - August 20, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, August 20, 2019. 167 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 441 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

White House

Payroll tax cut: With economists and top Trump aides privately expressing concerns about a potential forthcoming recession, "several senior White House officials have begun discussing whether to push for a temporary payroll tax cut as a way to arrest an economic slowdown," the Washington Post reports. (The White House disputed in a statement to the Post that a payroll tax cut is "under consideration at this time.)

Americans currently pay a payroll tax of 6.2% on annual wages up to $132,900; funds from the impost are used to finance Social Security programs. The reported proposal to cut the tax in order to boost the economy comes as 74% of economists said in a survey conducted by the National Association for Business Economics that they expect the United States to be mired in a recession by the end of 2021.

Gun control: After initially appearing to support a renewed push for background checks legislation in the aftermath of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, earlier this month, President Donald Trump now appears to be backing away from endorsing such a bill. According to the New York Times, Trump's "resolve appears to have substantially softened" after discussions with gun rights activists, including National Rifle Association (NRA) chief Wayne LaPierre, during his two-week vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey. Returning from Bedminster on Sunday, Trump told reporters that he was "very, very concerned with the Second Amendment," which protects the right to bear arms, and that "people don't realize we have very strong background checks right now."

Such a shift in sentiment on gun control is not new for the president: after the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Trump expressed support for universal background checks, only to reverse himself after a meeting with NRA officials. Democratic lawmakers criticized Trump for his latest reversal on Monday. "We’ve seen this movie before: President Trump, feeling public pressure in the immediate aftermath of a horrible shooting, talks about doing something meaningful to address gun violence, but inevitably, he backtracks in response to pressure from the NRA and the hard-right," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement. "These retreats from President Trump are not only disappointing but also heartbreaking, particularly for the families of the victims of gun violence."

Today at the White House:

--- At 12:45 p.m., President Trump has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence.

At 2:10 p.m., the president participates in a bilateral meeting with President Klaus Iohannis of Romania. At 2:30 p.m., the two presidents participate in an expanded bilateral meeting. According to a White House statement, "the two leaders will discuss how best to meet the many shared security challenges facing the United States and Romania and ways to advance fair and reciprocal trade and energy partnerships."

--- At 9:30 a.m., Vice President Pence delivers remarks at the 6th meeting of the National Space Council, which he chairs. According to the White House, Pence will "convene the meeting, receive reports from Council members, hear from an expert panel on innovative space initiatives and human space exploration, lead a Council discussion, and present policy recommendations for the President."

At 12:45 p.m., he joins President Trump for lunch. At 2:30 p.m., he will take part in Trump's meeting with the Romanian president. At 4:15 p.m., he will participate in the ceremonial swearing-in of Donald Tapia, a longtime Arizona GOP donor, as the U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica.

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2020 campaign

Harris health care reversal: After co-sponsoring the Medicare for All proposal authored by her now-rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in 2017, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) told donors at a fundraiser in the Hamptons this weekend that she is no longer "comfortable with Bernie's plan," Bloomberg reports. Harris' stance on health care has been murky: at a CNN town hall in January, she backed Sanders' plan to offer nationalized publish health insurance and "eliminate" private ensurers, before backing away from those comments the next day.

Last month, she offered a middle-ground plan of her own, which would set up a Medicare for All system over 10 years (instead of Sanders' four years) while still allowing private insurers to offer Medicare plans as part of the system. "There's a difference between signing onto a good idea and running on a plan," Harris campaign spokesman Ian Sams said Monday, addressing her support for Sanders' plan in the Senate.

Polling update: A CNN poll released this morning continues to show former Vice President Joe Biden in command of the Democratic presidential primary field. According to the poll, Biden has the support of 29% of the Democratic electorate, a 7-point gain from the network's June survey. The other candidates remained mostly stable, with Sens. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) effectively tied for second place, at 15% and 14%, respectively. The largest shift for any candidate was a steep drop for Harris, who shot up to 17% in June but is now at 5%, tied with South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg. No other candidate received more than 3% support.

Since it is a Democratic National Committee (DNC)-approved survey, the poll also has ramifications for candidates seeking to qualify for the upcoming September 12 debate. To qualify, candidates must receive donations from 130,000 individual donors and receive 2% support in at least four DNC-approved polls. Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro became the 10th candidate to qualify for the debate as a result of the poll, joining Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, Sanders, Warren, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) both hit the donor qualification in the last 24 hours, although they both have yet to reach the polling threshold.

Ad watch: Biden is out with the first TV ad of his campaign today, a 1-minute spot titled "Bones." The ad, which will air in Iowa after a six-figure buy, aims to make an electability case in favor of Biden's candidacy. "All the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat" to defeat Trump in November, a narrator says, before listing the former VP's accomplishments at former President Barack Obama's side.

Today on the campaign trail:

--- Seven presidential candidates will participate in the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City, Iowa, today. The forum, which included participation from four additional candidates on Monday, is being promoted as "the nation's first-ever presidential forum focusing entirely on Native American issues." Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) will address the forum at 10:30 a.m., Independent candidate Mark Charles (a member of the Navajo Nation) at 12 p.m., former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) at 2 p.m., Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) at 3 p.m. (via livestream), former HUD Secretary Julián Castro at 4 p.m., Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at 6 p.m., and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at 7 p.m.

--- Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) travels to Iowa, holding a meet and greet in Council Bluffs at 1 p.m. and touring the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Training Center in Des Moines at 5 p.m.

--- Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Iowa, holding events in Prole at 3:15 p.m. and in Urbandale at 6:30 p.m.

--- Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg holds a grassroots event in Chicago, Illinois, at 7:30 p.m.

--- Elsewhere in Iowa, Delaney will hold a roundtable discussion on climate challenges with local activists Jan and James Norris in Council Bluffs at 10:30 a.m., hold an ice cream social in Sioux City at 3:30 p.m., participate in a "picnic & policy conversations" event in Exira at 6 p.m., and hold an event in Atlantic at 8 p.m.

--- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) holds a roundtable on mental health issues with state Sen. Tom Sherman (D-NH) in Manchester, New Hampshire, at 10 a.m.

--- Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) campaigns in Greensville, South Carolina, alongside Carrie Counton, the Democratic nominee in a state House special election being held today.

--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) travels to Kansas City, Missouri, to join former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander for a tour of the Veterans Community Project (VCP) Village, "a community of transitional tiny-homes and onsite services for veterans experiencing homelessness," at 3:15 p.m. O'Rourke will then travel to Iowa for a 7:30 p.m. event on "standing up to Trump" at Grand View University in Des Moines.

--- Sanders will also hold a breakfast event in Storm Lake, Iowa, at 11 a.m., an ice cream social event in Arnolds Park at 2 p.m., and a rally at his office in Sioux City at 8 p.m.

--- While in Iowa, Sestak will also speak at an event in Panora at 7 p.m. and at an event at the Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny at 7:30 p.m.

--- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) holds a criminal justice reform roundtable in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at 12:30 p.m.


Impeachment: Assistant House Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, announced his support for opening an impeachment inquiry against President Trump on Monday. According to Politico, Luján is the 127th House Democrat to do so, meaning impeachment backers now make up more than a majority of the caucus. A top ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), he is the highest-rankest Democrat to endorse impeachment proceedings. Pelosi has been hesitant to call for an impeachment inquiry, even as House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has described his panel's investigation of Trump as "formal impeachment proceedings," a statement that hasn't stopped an increasing number of lawmakers from calling for such proceedings to be launched. Luján is currently running for the open Senate seat in New Mexico.

Today on Capitol Hill: The House and Senate are both on recess.

Supreme Court schedule

Today at the court: The Supreme Court is on recess.

*All times Eastern