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Wake Up To Politics - August 24, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, August 24, 2018. 74 days until Election Day 2018. 802 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

In today's newsletter: an interview with Kansas City mayoral candidate Jason Kander...

Trump vs. Sessions

A war of words between President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions spilled out into the public on Thursday.

  • Trump's interview: Trump criticized Sessions in a "Fox & Friends" interview, saying he "put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department" and bemoaning Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe. "He took the job and then he said, 'I'm going to recuse myself,'" Trump said. "I said, 'What kind of man is this?' And by the way, he was on the campaign. The only reason I gave him the job, I felt loyalty. He was an original supporter."
  • Sessions' response: Sessions released a rare statement firing back at the president hours after the Thursday interview. "I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in," he declared, adding: "While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations."
  • Trump's tweets: And President Trump returned fire on Sessions in a series of tweets this morning, renewing his call for the attorney general to investigate a long list of political enemies, including former FBI chief James Comey, special counsel Robert Mueller, and the Clintons. "Come on Jeff, you can do it, the country is waiting!" Trump urged.
  • GOP senators: Meanwhile, a number of Republican senators signaled on Thursday that Trump is gearing up to fire Sessions after the midterm elections. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters that he expects Trump to install "a new face and a fresh voice" as attorney general "sooner rather than later," while Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told Politico, "it's apparent that after the midterms, he will make a change and choose someone to do what he wants done." Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) also told Bloomberg that he could now schedule confirmation hearings on a new attorney general, after saying for months that he would refuse to do so.
  • Criminal justice reform: Meanwhile, Sessions was in the Oval Office on Thursday for a meeting on criminal justice reform. Per Axios, the morning's back-and-forth went unmentioned; in the meeting, Trump reportedly decided not to endorse a bipartisan prison and sentencing reform package until after the midterms, siding with Sessions (who opposes the bill) and against his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner (who has championed the legislation).
  • Big picture: "Critics fear Trump’s attacks are doing lasting damage to the justice system" (Washington Post)

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The Interview: Jason Kander, Kansas City mayoral candidate

Jason Kander is not your average mayoral candidate. He has over 300,000 followers on Twitter. He hosts a popular podcast for Crooked Media. He’s run a nationally-watched statewide campaign. He appears frequently on cable news and late-night shows. And his new book, “Outside the Wire,” is on the New York Times bestseller list.

Kander, 37, first caught attention on the national stage in 2016, as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Missouri, with an ad showing him putting together a rifle blindfolded while advocating for increased background checks. He lost his Senate race by less than 3% (Hillary Clinton lost the state by 18.5%), immediately setting off speculation as to his next moves.

Last month, Kander launched a bid to be mayor of Kansas City. If elected, Kander told Wake Up To Politics in a recent interview, “my overall vision for the city [will be] of a place where, no matter what part of town you’re from and no matter how you grew up, you have an opportunity to succeed without having to leave town or without having to move across town.” He added, “Kansas City’s has enjoyed a lot of progress lately under Mayor [Sly] James’ leadership. I want to make sure everybody in the city can see it and can feel it, and that’s really why I decided to run.”

Kander’s mayoral announcement surprised many who expected him to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. In his last interview in office, former president Barack Obama placed to Kander first on a list of five Democratic rising stars; the two met at Obama’s Washington, D.C. office earlier this year. (Kander told WUTP that he “was deeply appreciative of [Obama’s] time” and that “his counsel and his mentorship…means a lot to me,” but declined to share more details.)

“If you looked up ‘he’s running’ in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Jason Kander,” Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight said in May, referring to the presidency. Since the 2016 election, Kander has made 16 visits to the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa (more than any other potential 2020 candidate), opened up an office for his voting-rights organization Let America Vote in the Hawkeye State, and even hired Iowa’s top political reporter to direct communications for the group.

But Kander denied that a national campaign is in his future. “I’m excited to be running for mayor of Kanas City,” he said in the interview. “I am hoping to be elected, and then if I am fortunate enough to be elected, then I’m gonna work as hard as I possibly can for four years so that I can hopefully earn another four years after that, because I’d very much like to be able to do all eight.” Asked if he would rule out a run for another office in the next eight years, Kander replied: “Yeah.”

But before 2020, and before his mayoral election in 2019, comes the 2018 midterms. Calling this cycle “the most important election of our lifetimes,” Kander said if Democrats “don’t get 2018 right, then we’re gonna feel really silly for having focused on 2020 beforehand,” adding that “it’s gonna make it a lot harder for Democrats to win in 2020 as well if we don’t do well in 2018.” Kander added that Democrats “definitely have the momentum,” but urged his party to “remember…that the ‘blue wave’ is not a weather event. It’s something we make happen. You can't sit back and watch the meteorologist report on the Blue Wave, it don't work that way. You gotta get out, you gotta knock doors, you gotta make phone calls and that's how you get a Blue Wave.”

Kander spoke to Wake Up To Politics amid the release of "Outside the Wire," in which he shares ten lessons on "everyday courage," which he distinguishes from "political courage." In the interview, Kander described the book as a "call to arms for decent people to get into politics and to stay decent," saying that he wanted readers "to see that you don't have to give away who you are and the goodness, your basic goodness, in order to be a part of politics. You can be a part of modern politics without cynicism."

Much of the book is a distillation on Kander's philosophy on the practice of politics; lessons include: "Politics is a profession practiced entirely by amateurs," and "Politics can be completely absurd. Deal with it." Kander tells WUTP: "Any time anybody acts like they know exactly how politics works, I just think that's disingenuous. It's not a science, it's just going out there and trying to be a decent person. And politics is really just the system by which we in America come together as a community and figure out what we think is best for the community as a whole. And there's a couple upsides to that. One upside is that it means that anybody can and should be involved. And the other upside is that sometimes it's kind of hilarious, and you can't take yourself too seriously. You have to take what happens very seriously, you have to take the work very seriously, but you shouldn't take yourself too seriously."

Friday Roundup

The Investigations:

  • David Pecker, the CEO of American Media, Inc. and publisher of the National Enquirer, "was granted immunity by federal prosecutors for providing information about Michael Cohen and President Trump in the criminal investigation into hush-money payments for two women during the 2016 presidential campaign," per the Wall Street Journal. Pecker was involved in Cohen's efforts to "catch and kill" stories by women alleging sexual encounters with Trump. According to the Associated Press, the National Enquirer "kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Donald Trump."
  • The Manhattan district attorney's office is "considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials in connection with Michael D. Cohen's hush money payment to an adult film actress," the New York Times reports.
  • President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the Washington Post and other news outlets on Thursday that Trump asked his legal team earlier this summer "for their advice on the possibility of pardoning Paul Manafort and other aides accused of crimes." According to Giuliani, the president and his lawyers agreed that any pardons should at least wait until the conclusion of special counsel Mueller's investigation. Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted that a Manafort pardon is "not something being discussed in the White House."

South Africa tweet: "President Trump’s promotion of a white-nationalist conspiracy theory involving South Africa prompted fierce backlash there Thursday and fresh criticism in the United States that he is compromising American foreign policy to stoke his far-right political base." (Washington Post)

Election protection bill: "A bill that would have significantly bolstered the nation’s defenses against electoral interference has been held up in the Senate at the behest of the White House, which opposed the proposed legislation, according to congressional sources." (Yahoo News)

Refugees: "The FBI has dramatically slowed the pace of security reviews for refugees in recent months, which former Trump administration officials and human rights advocates say is part of an intentional bid by White House hardliners to restrict the number of refugees allowed in the U.S." (NBC News)

White House schedule

POTUS: At 11:15am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing. The president and First Lady will then travel to Columbus, Ohio, where they will visit Nationwide Children's Hospital at 4pm. At 5:05pm, Trump hosts a roundtable with supporters in Columbus, followed by a 6pm speech at the Ohio Republican Party State Dinner. The Trumps will then return to Washington.

VP: At 1:20pm, Vice President Mike Pence addresses the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA) Summer Luncheon.

Briefing: No White House press briefing is on the schedule as of this writing, although they are sometimes added later in the day.

Congress schedule

Neither chamber of Congress is in session today.

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court is on its summer recess.

*All times Eastern