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Wake Up To Politics - August 21, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, August 21, 2019. 166 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 440 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Trump takes aim at rivals, reverses stances as fears of economic turmoil grow

President Donald Trump has long been known for the ease with which he pugnaciously takes on rivals and mercurially reverses himself on major issues, but both qualities have been on full display in recent days as economists warn of a recession in the offing. To wit:

  • Trump abruptly canceled a planned visit to Denmark on Tuesday after the country's prime minister said she was not interested in selling Greenland to the United States. Purchasing the island had not even been on the agenda for Trump's visit when it was first announced in July: the president only went public with his interest in Greenland after the Wall Street Journal reported last Friday that he had repeatedly floated the idea behind closed doors. Trump's Twitter cancellation of his upcoming trip to Denmark, which reportedly took officials in both Washington and Copenhagen by surprise, was a response to the Danish government's firmly declaration that "Greenland is not for sale."
  • Earlier in the day, Trump sparked outrage when he said Jewish people who vote Democratic (despite criticism of Israel by some in the party) display "either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty," echoing an anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews having "dual loyalty" to Israel and their home country. Despite Trump's comments, a large majority of the Jewish community regularly support Democratic candidates: 71% of Jewish voters backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 79% of Jewish voters cast ballots for Democrats in the 2018 House elections, according to exit polls. (This morning, characteristically doubling down, Trump quoted a right-wing radio host who asserted that Jewish people love the president like he is "the King of Israel" or "the second coming of God.)
  • Meanwhile, according to The Atlantic and other news outlets, Trump reversed himself on gun control once again on Tuesday, telling National Rifle Association (NRA) chief executive Wayne LaPierre in a phone call that universal background checks were "off the table." Just weeks ago, after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, Trump had flirted with endorsing gun reforms, before backing off again in much the same fashion as he did after the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida.
  • Trump has also continued to rhetorically savage his rivals at a speed and style unprecedented among occupants of the Oval Office. In recent days, among other spats, Trump has called his former White House communications director a "dope" and a "nut job," retweeted a conspiracy theorist suggesting his 2016 opponent could have been involved in the death of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and congratulated a U.S. lawmaker's grandmother on not having to see her granddaughter after the Israeli government blocked the congresswoman's visit to her (at his suggestion).

Why the sudden spate of personal feuds and policy whiplash? It is often a fool's errand to make guesses at the reasoning behind Trump's actions, but these latest moves do coincide with the emergence of a storyline that could threaten the future of his presidency: growing fears of a forthcoming recession.

In a survey conducted by the National Association for Business Economics this week, 74% of economists predicted that the U.S. would face a recession by the end of 2021, after recent volatility in the financial markets. While the president and his advisers have downplayed these fears in public, they are reportedly fretting about economic woes in private as well: according to Politico, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged the possibility of a coming recession at a GOP fundraising luncheon this week.

The White House's response to the potential economic downturn — like its messaging on the Denmark visit, gun control legislation, and other issues — has been mixed in other ways as well. The Washington Post reported on Monday that Trump and his advisers were discussing "whether to push for a temporary payroll tax cut as a way to arrest an economic slowdown," a suggestion the White House promptly denied. "Cutting payroll taxes is not something under consideration at this time," a spokesperson said in a statement to The Post. But the president confirmed on Tuesday that he has been exploring a payroll tax cut "for a long time," a sign that he and his team are worried about an economic slowdown, despite their public statements of confidence.

Although he has taken credit for the success of the economy in the past, he has also taken steps this week to pass off the blame for its current state to various targets. In tweets this morning, he suggested that the "Fake News LameStream Media" is attempting to "create" a recession, "even though the numbers & facts are working totally in the opposite direction," and complained yet again about the Federal Reserve's interest rates, likening his own Fed chair, Jay Powell, to a "golfer who can't putt."

The swirl of recent feuds and flip-flops are all taking place in the backdrop of the 2020 campaign, as 23 Democrats compete for the opportunity to face President Trump next fall, a contest that could swing against him if the current economic trends continue. And Trump faces opposition not only from the Democrats but within his own party as well: a growing number of Republicans are "feeling new urgency" to mount primary challenges against him (or at least consider doing so), according to The Washington Post, including former Reps. Joe Walsh (R-IL) and Mark Sanford (R-SC), former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and former Gov. John Kasich (R-OH).

Speaking about Republican donors who have "stepped up" their calls to him in recent days amid growing fear of economic turmoil, Flake told The Post: "They are wondering, if the economy isn’t stellar next year, how is the party going to win? By the president offending more people?”

The Rundown

New regulations would overturn immigrant families to be detained indefinitely: "The Trump administration on Wednesday unveiled a sweeping plan to detain migrant families and children for longer periods of time than currently allowed, issuing a final regulation that would overhaul the immigration detention system in the U.S. and scrap a longstanding court settlement."

"For more than two decades, the court settlement known as the Flores Agreement has governed the care of migrant children in U.S. custody. The 1997 agreement sets sweeping standards for the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children, from housing to medical care, as well as education, nutrition and hygiene. In more recent rulings, the federal judge overseeing the settlement has also effectively prohibited the government from detaining for more than 20 days families apprehended with children."

"But the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulation, a draft of which was published last year, would give immigration authorities more leeway in detaining families with children for longer, and modify the standards of care for unaccompanied children set forth by the 1997 settlement. The administration believes these changes would render the deal obsolete." (CBS News)

Trump backs readmittance of Russia in G7: "President Trump said on Tuesday that Russia should be readmitted to the Group of 7 industrialized nations, a call for ending Moscow’s pariah status on the world stage that is likely to earn a cool reception when the group’s annual summit opens this weekend."

"Speaking a few days before his planned departure for the summit, in Biarritz, France, Mr. Trump said that Moscow’s exclusion since 2014 from the group of leading economic powers should be reversed and, ignoring Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, contended that the true reason for it was President Barack Obama’s wounded pride." (The New York Times)

Race for 51: "Republican Susan Collins is caught in the cross-fire of the angry partisan division that’s defining the nation’s politics, turning her from a shoo-in for re-election into one of the most vulnerable senators running in 2020."

"After spending four terms building a bipartisan brand in her home state of Maine, Collins has stoked anger from Democrats for her votes in favor of President Donald Trump’s tax cuts and his Supreme Court pick of Brett Kavanaugh, and from Republicans for helping save Obamacare and her frequent criticism of the president’s statements and behavior."

"Collins’s once sky-high approval ratings have plunged more than any other senator in the Trump era, and last week the non-partisan Cook Political Report put her Senate seat -- one of just two in GOP hands in states won by Hillary Clinton and being contested in 2020 -- in the toss-up category." (Bloomberg)

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White House schedule

--- President Donald Trump travels to Louisville, Kentucky, today. At 2 p.m., he delivers remarks at the American Veterans (AMVETS) 75th National Convention. At 3:15 p.m., he participates in a fundraising roundtable with supporters. At 4:15 p.m., he speaks at a fundraising committee reception.

--- Vice President Mike Pence travels to Roswell, New Mexico, today. At 3:15 p.m., he delivers remarks on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) at an event hosted by America First Policies. At 4:45 p.m., he visits the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in nearby Artesia.

Today on the trail

--- 17 presidential candidates will speak at the Iowa Federation of Labor Convention in Altoona today, for 10 minutes each: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker, Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), comedian Ben Gleib, Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

--- Biden will also headline a forum at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny.

-- Booker will also attend a fundraiser in Los Angeles.

--- Bullock will also attend a house party in Des Moines.

--- Buttigieg will also attend a town hall hosted by pro-choice group NARAL in Des Moines.

--- Castro will also hold a roundtable in Des Moines on issues affecting children and tour a wind turbine manufacturing plant in Newton, Iowa.

--- Delaney will also attend a "Coffee with the Candidate" event in Nevada, Iowa.

--- O'Rourke will also visit Iowa Valley Community College in Marshalltown, host a roundtable on immigration in Marshalltown, and attend a block party in Des Moines.

--- Sanders will also host a town hall on health care in Des Moines.

--- Warren will also hold a town hall in Los Angeles.


--- In Monday's newsletter, I misstated the name of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), a presidential candidate.

--- In Tuesday's newsletter, I misstated the presidential candidates who had reached the donor threshold for the September debate in the previous 24 hours. They were Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and spiritual author Marianne Williamson.

My apologies for these errors and thanks to the readers who pointed them out.

*All times Eastern