I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Thursday, August 31, 2017. 432 days until Election Day 2018. 1,161 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!
Trump Pledges Harvey Disaster Aid
- President Donald Trump has repeatedly promised swift passage of legislation to help Texas and Lousiana deal with the damage of Hurricane Harvey. "I think it'll happen very quickly," Trump said about an aid package on Monday. "It'll go very fast." He declined to set a specific amount he would seek, saying: "The real number, which will be many billions of dollars, will go through Congress."
- The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Trump may request an emergency funding package "as soon as next week," likely "a partial down payment" partly to "backstop depleted reserves that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had on hand to respond to disasters."
- According to the Post, the White House and congressional staff have already begun discussing a potential aid package, ahead of Congress' return from August recess next week. The report said that the topic will likely be discussed at the President's meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
- Texas and Lousiana lawmakers urged their colleagues to pass "immediate federal funding" for Harvey recovery in a Wednesday call including Republican congressional leaders and Administration officials, according to Politico. That need is complicated by two deadlines facing Congress in September: September 29, when Congress must raise the debt limit or face default, and September 30, when Congress must re-up government funding or face a shutdown.
- Republican leaders are hoping to be able to include a relief package with legislation that would raise the debt ceiling and fund the government at current spending levels through December, which would make it harder for conservatives to say "no." Some spoke on the conference call about the need to approve aid by early September, calling for a temporary stand-alone bill funding the Federal Emergency Management Administration soon and a more lasting package married with the debt ceiling-funding bill later when it is expected to be considered later in the month. In 2012, Congress voted twice on aid for Hurricane Sandy in the reverse order: approving an aid package as part of a short-term spending bill, and then voting for a larger, stand-alone relief bill.
- However, it may be difficult to pass a billion-dollar package before the debt ceiling is raised, while the Treasury's balance remains in need of an increase.
- Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) said Wednesday that his state may require more federal aid to rebuild from Harvey than approved for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when $125 billion in aid was given. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) told the Post on Wednesday that $200 billion could be needed, more than for any previous natural disaster.
- Meanwhile, the spending bill that the House is set to consider upon returning from recess next week includes nearly $876 million in cuts to the FEMA disaster relief budget, which was supposed to be offset by increases in the Homeland Security budget, including to fund President Trump's proposed border wall. According to CNN, lawmakers are now expected to drop the proposed cuts.
- Another related issue: the National Flood Insurance Program, which had received 35,000 claims from Texas by Wednesday, according to Reuters, expires on September 30 if Congress does not reauthorize it. Plans to reform the program will likely be dropped in light of the new need for the program.
- Christie vs. Cruz Many Texas Republicans, especially Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), have come under fire for alleged hypocrisy over their 2013 opposition of Hurricane Sandy relief, compared to their calls now for disaster aid to their own state.
- "I see Sen. Cruz and it's disgusting to me that he stands in a recovery center with victims standing behind him as a backdrop," Christie said on CNN's "New Day" on Wednesday. "He's still repeating the same reprehensible lies about what happened in Sandy (and) called on Congress Wednesday morning to work fast on a bill to aid Texas after Hurricane Harvey." Cruz has said that he opposed the 2013 legislation because "two-thirds" of the bill was unrelated pork-barrel spending; however, the second package included just disaster aid.
- Cruz fired back, responding on "Fox & Friends": "I’m sorry that there are politicians who seem really desperate to get their names in the news and are saying whatever they need to do that."
Drip, Drip, Drip
More reporting on the Russia investigation from Wednesday...
- "Mueller teams up with New York attorney general in Manafort probe" Via Politico: "Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on its investigation into Paul Manafort and his financial transactions, according to several people familiar with the matter."
- "The cooperation is the latest indication that the federal probe into President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is intensifying. It also could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump’s campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes."
- ..."One of the people familiar with progress on the case said both Mueller’s and Schneiderman’s teams have collected evidence on financial crimes, including potential money laundering."
- "Trump Lawyer 'Vehemently' Denies Russian Collusion" Via the New York Times: "President Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, has given Congress a point-by-point rebuttal of a dossier alleging that he has deep ties to Russian officials — an effort to clear his name as the Justice Department and congressional committees investigate Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election."
- "Mr. Cohen encouraged lawmakers to investigate those who paid for the salacious 35-page dossier, which surfaced online early this year and alleges that President Trump and his campaign conspired with Russia in the November election. The dossier, compiled by a retired British spy, portrays Mr. Cohen as a central figure in the conspiracy."
- "Paul Manafort’s Overseas Political Work Had a Notable Patron: A Russian Oligarch" Via the Wall Street Journal: "Paul Manafort’s political-consulting firm was active for more than a decade doing work that often dovetailed with Russian political interests not only in Ukraine, but also in Georgia and Montenegro, other countries the Kremlin considered to be in its sphere of influence."
- "A Wall Street Journal examination shows these efforts were broader in scope and ambition, and took place for longer, than previously reported—starting in 2004 and continuing through 2015."
- "They often involved one principal figure, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a politically connected international operator whose ventures have sometimes aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign-policy objectives."
- "Senate intel may want to speak with Rohrabacher" Via CNN: "The Senate intelligence committee is considering calling on Rep. Dana Rohrabacher to talk about his meeting earlier in August with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, two congressional sources told CNN this week."
- ..."Shortly after the meeting with Assange, Rohrabacher said he planned to debrief President Donald Trump on their talk. Speaking on Sean Hannity's radio show this week, Rohrabacher said that other parties are planning a 'rendezvous' for him and Trump to speak about the Assange meeting."
- "Kremlin Confirms Trump's Lawyer Reached Out About Deal" Via the Associated Press: "The Kremlin on Wednesday confirmed that President Donald Trump's personal lawyer reached out to them during the 2016 presidential campaign, seeking help for a business project in Russia."
- ..."President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday that they received Cohen's email, which was sent to the press office's general email address. Peskov said it was one of many emails the Kremlin press office gets - since its email address is available online - and that the Kremlin did not reply to it."
- "Rusian lobbyist testifies to Mueller grand jury" Via Financial Times: "Rinat Akhmetshin, the lobbyist and former Soviet army officer who met senior Trump campaign aides at a controversial meeting last year, has given evidence before a grand jury investigation, according to two people familiar with the matter."
- "Mr Akhmetshin gave testimony under oath for several hours on August 11 in a sign that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking at the 2016 meeting as part of his investigation into links between Russia and Donald Trump’s election campaign."
Today at the White House
- Trump: Quiet Day President Donald Trump has no public events today. He is scheduled to receive his daily intelligence briefing at 10:30am, meet with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster at 11am, and meet with Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney at 1:30pm.
- Pence to Texas Two days after President Trump's visit, Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Texas today in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. According to the White House, he will "visit with those affected" by the storm and "assess the damage." Pence will be joined by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX).
- Spicer Says Goodbye After a tumultuous seven-month tenure at the White House, former press secretary Sean Spicer marks his official last day today. Spicer has been without an official title in the building for over a month, since tendering his resignation in protest of the short-lived appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House Communications Director.
- Spicer served two stints as interim Communications Director and as Trump's first White House press secretary, from January 20 to July 21. In that time, he was the public face of the Trump Administration's shaky relationship with the press, sparking a number of controversies, most notably berating the press on reporting about the Inauguration crowd sizes on his first day on the job and falsely stating in April that Adolph Hitler's never used chemical weapons during the Holocaust. He rose to fame thanks to a portrayal by Mellisa McCarthy on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."
- Spicer's colleagues are throwing him a "farewell party" tonight, according to multiple reports. He is expected to be presented with a number of plum opportunities upon exiting the White House; according to the New York Post, he has already signed with Washington superlawyer Bob Barnett and took meetings with NBC, CBS, and Fox News. The Post also revealed that Spicer turned down an offer from ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," but Us Weekly has reported that he is "angling" for an appearance on "SNL."
- Politico: "Trump's shrinking West Wing" Trump's repeated loss of top aides, combined with chief of staff John Kelly's newly-installed "careful vetting process" and reluctance on the part of many GOP operatives to join the White House due to the Russia probe, has made filling vacated positions almost impossible, requiring some West Wing staffers to take on double roles to absorb portfolios left by their former colleagues.
Judge Blocks Texas "Sanctuary Cities" Legislation
- A federal judge on Wednesday night temporarily blocked major parts of Texas' "sanctuary cities" law set to take effect on Friday. According to the Associated Press, the law "would have let police officers ask people during routine stops whether they’re in the U.S. legally and threatened sheriffs with jail time for not cooperating with federal immigration authorities."
- The AP said that the law, labeled Senate Bill 4, was viewed as the "toughest" immigration law in the U.S. since Arizona's controversial "Show Me Your Papers" law, passed in 2010 and later partially blocked by the Supreme Court.
Some numbers from the new Fox News poll released on Wednesday...
- 2016 voters: no regrets 96% of Trump voters said they're satisfied with their vote, while 4% said they wish they had voted differently. 93% of Clinton voters said they're satisfied with their vote, 2% said they wish they had voted differently.
- Media vs. white supremacists 40% said that the news media poses a greater threat to the U.S. than white supremacists, 47% said white supremacists pose a greater threat. 9% said they pose the same level of threat. Among Republicans, the answer was that the news media poses a greater threat, 69% to 18%.
- Meanwhile, 70% said Donald Trump dislikes the news media more than white supremacists, 13% said he dislikes white supremacists more than the media.
- Four more years? 58% said that Donald Trump will finish his term in office (including 92% of Trump voters and 29% of Clinton voters), 34% said they think he will not.
- Uniting vs. Dividing 56% said that Donald Trump is "tearing the country apart," 33% said he is "drawing the country together."
- Harvey response 44% approve of Trump's response to Hurricane Harvey, 26% disapprove.