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Wake Up To Politics - August 21, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Monday, August 21, 2017. 442 days until Election Day 2018. 1,170 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Lots of news to report today, including a review of former White House chief Strategist Steve Bannon's return to Breitbart on Friday and a preview of the primetime address on Afghanistan from President Trump tonight...

Breaking News: USS John McCain collision

Ten Navy sailors are missing after the USS John McCain collided with a merchant vessel in Asian waters late Friday. The United States is joined by Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia in searching for the missing sailors. This is the fourth accident with a U.S. warship in that region this year, according to CNN.

President Trump was asked about the incident on Friday as he walked into the White House, responding: "That's too bad," He later issued a more complete statement on Twitter: "Thoughts & prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnSMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway," he said.

Weekend Review: Bannon Exits White House, Returns to Breitbart

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon departed the White House on Friday, capping weeks of turnover that has seen much of President Trump's senior staff head for the exit. Just hours after his departure was announced, Bannon was back at the helm of Breitbart News, leading the outlet's evening editorial meeting as executive chairman, the role he held before decamping to the Trump campaign last year.

Bannon's West Wing tenure was marked by controversy, as the divisive and disruptive strategist feuded with the press ("the opposition party"), National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis ("the hawks"), and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn ("the globalists" or "West Wing Democrats"). Without a clear policy portfolio, Bannon kept his focus on advancing the nationalist/populist side of Trump's agenda, urging the President to follow through on campaign promises from immigration to climate change. Without Bannon in the White House, many in Trump's base now feel as though no one is left to advocate for those issues.

He left President Trump's side just more than one year after he arrived there as CEO of the campaign. Trump thanked him for his service in a tweet on Saturday: "He came to the campaign during my run against Crooked Hillary Clinton - it was great! Thanks S[teve]." Bannon was viewed as the intellectual force of Trump's campaign and Administration, credited for propelling Trump from trailing in the polls to the Oval Office and profiled as "The Great Manipulator" on the cover of Time magazine and in a newly-released book by Bloomberg reporter Joshua Green, attention which Trump reportedly begrudged.

It remains unclear whether Bannon resigned or was fired. In interviews, he claimed to have submitted his resignation on August 7, effective on Monday, August 14. In light of Charlottesville, Bannon says, he and White House chief of staff John Kelly agreed to delay his exit until the end of the week. In her statement announcing Bannon's departure on Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Kelly and Bannon "mutually agreed today would be Steve's last day," adding: "We are grateful for his service and wish him the best." Bannon would probably not have lasted much longer in the White House regardless: after succeeding Reince Priebus as Trump's top aide three weeks ago, Kelly (a McMaster ally) initiated a review of the West Wing staff that likely would have ended in Bannon's termination.

Trump was reportedly annoyed with Bannon's rising reputation, and was under pressure to remove him in light of white supremacist rallies across the country. Bannon had been criticized since joining the White House for his ties to the "alt-right"; Democrats have been calls for his ouster for moths. His exit was seen as inevitable following an interview published by The American Prospect on Wednesday, in which Bannon unloaded on his "enemies" in the foreign policy establishment and undermined the President's stance on North Korea.

Reinstalled at Breitbart, Bannon may have as much influence as ever. "#WAR," Breitbart editor Joel Pollak tweeted on Friday, signaling preparation from the organization to avenge Bannon by taking on his enemies in Washington. In an interview with Green, Bannon clarified his plans: "I'm leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents — on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America," Bannon said. And while he will likely maintain his relationship with the President, some in Trump's circle are likely to be unspared: since his return to Breitbart, the outlet has already published pieces hitting McMaster and Ivanka Trump, a top White House adviser and wife of Bannon rival Kushner.

“I feel jacked up,” Bannon told The Weekly Standard in an interview on Friday. “Now I’m free. I’ve got my hands back on my weapons. Someone said, ‘it’s Bannon the Barbarian.’ I am definitely going to crush the opposition. There’s no doubt. I built a f***ing machine at Breitbart. And now I’m about to go back, knowing what I know, and we’re about to rev that machine up. And rev it up we will do.” In the interview, Bannon declared: “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” mourning the take-over by Kushner, McMaster, and co., while taking aim at the "Republican establishment." Breitbart frequently tormented House Speaker Paul Ryan in the years before the Trump campaign, and will likely do so once again if Bannon views the Speaker as stalling Trump's agenda.

Bannon's return could signal big changes at Breitbart; he is believed to be forming plans with Trump superdonor Robert Mercer to begin a TV channel. "Breitbart's pace of global expansion will only accelerate with Steve back," CEO Larry Solov said in a statement. "The sky's the limit." His plans for Breitbart seemed to gain Trumps stamp of approval: the President tweeted on Saturday, "Steve Bannon will be a tough and smart new voice at @BreitbartNews...maybe even better than ever before. Fake News needs the comeptiton."

But will Bannon's exit dramatically alter the course of the Trump Administration? Probably not. Trump is still Trump, the same person he was before Bannon entered his inner circle. The President may not have as formed of an ideology as Bannon, but he has had the same nationalist instincts since entering the public stage decades ago as a New York businessman. Those impulses were on display just last week, as he placed blame for the violence in Charlottesville on "both sides," a pronouncement made without consultation from Bannon. According to reports, most of the White House staff was frustrated and dispirited after that implosive press conference. But Bannon? The strategist was reportedly "proud," seeing a sign that his presence in the West Wing may not be necessary.

--- THE BANNON WING Bannon is also expected to remain in Trump's large circle of outside advisers, many of whom frequently speak with the President by telephone. These conversations will be supplemented by the advice of a trio of White House aides known to ally with Bannon on key issues, senior advisor Stephen Miller, special assistant Julia Hahn, and counterterrorism aide Sebastian Gorka. Both Hahn and Gorka followed Bannon from Breitbart to the West Wing, and are rumored to be considering exits as well. The Washington Examiner reported on Friday that Trump supporters are urging the President to fill the Chief Strategist role with someone similar in ideology to Bannon. Among the names recommended by Trump adviser Roger Stone was Ed Martin, a former Chariman of the Missouri Republican Party.

In an email interview on Sunday, Martin told Wake Up To Politics that he was "flattered to be mentioned," but has "not talked to anyone about a post" in the White House. While the early Trump supporter said he has never planned on entering the Administration, he would "never say never" and "would answer this President's call."

The President's Schedule: Trump to address nation on Afghanistan

President Donald Trump returned from his 17-day "working vacation" on Sunday night, closing two of the most turbulent weeks of his presidency — a period in which Trump feuded with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, threatened Venezuela and North Korea, made controversial comments on Charlottesville, and received condemnations from businesspeople, world leaders, former Presidents, and lawmakers of both parties.

At 10:30am, the President will receive his daily intelligence briefing in the newly-renovated Oval Office (Trump's vacation coincided with long-planned construction at the White House).

At 12:30pm, he will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence in the Private Dining Room. At 1:30pm, he will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the Oval Office. At 4pm, he will participate in the swearing-in of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson as Ambassador to the UK.

Finally, at 9pm, President Trump will deliver his first prime-time address to the nation, providing "an update on the path forward for America's engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia," according to press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Trump's speech will take place at Fort Meyer in Arlington, Virginia, with soldiers as his audience.

His announcement on Afghanistan comes after months of internal debate, culminating in a meeting with Trump and top officials at Camp David on Friday. Former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who left the White House as the Camp David summit was going on, had advocated outsourcing the war to private contractors, but was blocked out of the meeting along with businessman ally Erik Prince.

Instead, Trump was advised by his national security team to send an additional 3,000 to 5,000 troops, according to Reuters. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Sunday that Trump's decision was the result of a "sufficiently rigorous" process. He declined to delve into specifics, however. "The President has made a decision," Mattis said. "He wants to be the one to announce it to the American people."

There are currently 8,400 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan, as the longest war in American history continues after nearly 16 years.

*All times Eastern.

Daily Data

Some data points to know as you start your day...

  • NBC battleground polling President Trump's job approval rating is below 40% among registered voters in three states key to his 2016 victory, according to a NBC News/Marist poll released Sunday. The poll found his approval at 36% in Michigan, 35% in Pennsylvania, and 34% in Wisconsin.
  • Large percentages of voters in each state said they were "embarrassed" by Trump's conduct as President: 64% in Michigan and Wisconsin, and 63% in Pennsylvania. 28% of Michigan voters polled and 25% of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin voters said he made them feel "proud."
  • All three states were won by President Trump last year after harshly-fought battles, and are also home to both Senate and gubernatorial elections in 2018. In each state, Democrats led in the generic congressional ballot, according to the poll. 48% of Michigan voters, 47% of Pennsylvania voters, and 46% of Michigan voters said they would prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress (to 35%, 37%, and 38%, respectively, who said they would prefer a GOP Congress).
  • RNC Outraises DNC The Republican Party added to its fundraising advantage last month, with July fundraising numbers released on Friday showing a crushing month for Democrats. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) raised just $3.8 million in July, to the Republican National Committee's $10.2 million, the former's worst July since 2007. The DNC now has $6.9 million cash on hand, to the RNC's $47.1 million, and is $3.4 million in debt, while their counterpart owes $0.

Picture of the Day

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) hikes with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) on Saturday, after completing the first round of chemotherapy and radiation treatment in his battle with brain cancer. "The three amigos together again!" McCain tweeted, invoking the nickname given to the trio, who were often ideologically united when they served together in the Senate. (Photo via @SenJohnMcCain)