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Wake Up To Politics - December 8, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, December 8, 2017. 335 days until Election Day 2018. 1,063 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!

Two resignations, one day

Two lawmakers — Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) — announced plans to resign on Thursday amid ethics investigations into sexual misconduct.

Franken made his announcement on the Senate floor, coming three weeks after the initial allegation of inappropriate behavior against him surfaced and one day after three-fourths of the Democratic caucus called for his resignation. In total, eight women came forward to accuse Franken of misconduct.

The Minnesota Democrat did not apologize in his speech Thursday,instead saying: "Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently," while expressing confidence that he would have been vindicated by an ongoing investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.

But, he added, having lost the support of Senate Democratic leadership and many of his male and female colleagues alike, "It has become clear that I can't both pursue the Ethics Committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator for them." Calling it "the worst day of my political life," Franken said he will "continue to stand up for the things I believe in as a citizen as an activist" even after formally resigning towards the end of the year. "I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice," he said.

Hours after Franken's address, Franks released a statement announcing that he would be resigning in the coming weeks as well, revealing that he was being investigated for discussing surrogacy with multiple female aides "I have recently learned that the Ethics Committee is reviewing an inquiry regarding my discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable," he said. "I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress."

Franks said he has "absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff," but added: "I am deeply convinced I would be unable to complete a fair House Ethics investigation before distorted and sensationalized versions of this story would put me, my family, my staff, and my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation."

Like Franken, who spoke about the "important moment in the history of this country" brought by the #MeToo movement, Franks included a nod to the current climate. "We are in an unusual moment in history – there is collective focus on a very important problem of justice and sexual impropriety," the Arizona Republican said. "It is so important that we get this right for everyone, especially for victims."

The office of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a statement saying that Ryan had been briefed last Wednesday on "credible claims of misconduct" against Franks, which he found "to be serious and requiring action." According to Ryan's office, the speaker urged Franks to resign the next day, telling him that he would report the allegations to the House Ethics panel.

Franks put a date on his departure (January 31), while Franken merely said he will be stepping down in the weeks ahead. When they make their exits, the two lawmakers will become the second and third members of Congress to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct in recent weeks. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the Dean of the House, resigned on Tuesday as part of the growing spate of accusations.

Others are likely to join them: in addition to launching a probe on Franks on Thursday, the House Ethics Committee also announced an investigation into Rep. Blake Fahrenthold (R-TX), after details of his settlement with a former aide who says he sexually harassed her were made public. Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) has also been ensnared, refusing to resign despite calls from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other top Democrats amid allegations from a former campaign staffer.

And, at the same time, many Democrats point to the disparity in Franken and Conyers being forced to step down while Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore (accused by multiple women of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teenagers) remains on the ballot and President Donald Trump (who faced a number of allegations of misconduct during the 2016 election) remains in office.

"I of all people am aware there is some irony in the fact I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party," Franken said in his resignation speech. "But this decision is not about me. It's about the people of Minnesota."

Congress sends short-term spending bill to President's desk

Both chambers of Congress swiftly approved a two-week spending bill on Thursday, punting the deadline for negotiations on a longer-term plan to the end of the year. President Donald Trump must sign the legislation by midnight to avert a government shutdown.

The Senate passed the funding bill ina 81-14 vote, with 6 Republicans and 7 Democrats (plus one Independent caucusing with the Democrats) voting "no." The bill cleared the House, 235-193, along party lines except for "yes" votes from 14 Democrats and "nays" from 18 Republicans.

The legislation passed on Thursday extends the shutdown deadline to December 22, two more weeks for congressional leaders to arrive at a consensus on a budget deal. The "Big Four" leaders — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — went to the White House on Thursday to meet with President Donald Trump.

The huddle didn't end with a formal agreement, but both sides termed the meeting "productive." According to Politico, "the vast majority of the talks focused on spending levels, and the two parties did not come to a consensus. Democrats want parity for any defense and non-defense spending boost, while Republicans want to see the Pentagon get the bulk of any spending increase."

The meeting also broached the topic of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a key sticking point between Republicans and Democrats. Pelosi and Schumer are demanding funding for a program to protect so-called "Dreamers" from deportation, while the GOP is hoping to delay those discussions until after the funding bill.

The Russia Investigation

New this morning... "Email shows effort to give Trump campaign WikiLeaks documents": "Candidate Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and others in the Trump Organization received an email in September 2016 offering a decryption key and website address for hacked WikiLeaks documents, according to an email provided to congressional investigators."

"The September 4 email was sent during the final stretch of the 2016 presidential race -- two months after the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee were made public and one month before WikiLeaks began leaking the contents of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's hacked emails."

"The email came less than three weeks before WikiLeaks itself messaged Trump Jr. and began an exchange of direct messages on Twitter. Trump Jr. told investigators he had no recollection of the September email." (CNN)

And from yesterday... "Previously undisclosed emails show follow-up after Trump Tower meeting": "The British publicist who arranged the June 2016 meeting with Russians and Donald Trump Jr. sent multiple emails to a Russian participant and a member of Donald Trump's inner circle later that summer, multiple sources told CNN, the first indication there was any follow-up after the meeting."

"The emails raise new questions for congressional investigators about what was discussed at Trump Tower. Trump Jr. has for months contended that after being promised he would get dirt on Hillary Clinton, the brief meeting focused almost exclusively on the issue of Russian adoptions, saying there was no discussion with the participants after that session." (CNN)

"Russian social media executive sought to help Trump campaign in 2016, emails show": "An executive at a leading Russian social media company made several overtures to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 — including days before the November election — urging the candidate to create a page on the website to appeal to Russian Americans and Russians."

"The executive at Vkontakte, or VK, Russia’s equivalent to Facebook, emailed Donald Trump Jr. and social media director [and now-White House aide] Dan Scavino in January and again in November of last year, offering to help promote Trump’s campaign to its nearly 100 million users, according to people familiar with the messages."

..."While Scavino expressed interest in learning more at one point, it is unclear whether the campaign pursued the idea. An attorney for Trump Jr. said his client forwarded a pitch about the concept to Scavino early in the year and could not recall any further discussion about it." (Washington Post)

The President's Schedule

At 11:30am, President Donald Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing.

At 12:30pm, he has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence.

At 1:30pm, he meets with Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

At 4:35pm, Trump departs the White House for Pensacola, Florida, where he arrives at 7:15pm.

At 8pm, Trump will speak at a campaign rally in Pensacola, just across the state line from Alabama, where a key Senate special election is taking place on Tuesday.

Following the rally, Trump will depart for his Mar-a-Lago club in West Palm Beach, Florida, arriving at the "Winter White House" to spend the holidays.

Today in Congress

No votes in either chamber of Congress today.

Announcement: I have my final exams next week, and then Winter Break after that, so this is going to be the last edition of Wake Up To Politics for 2017. It has been quite a year to cover politics, and I have had a great time writing this newsletter for a growing audience this year. I hope you've enjoyed the newsletters as well! Thanks so much for reading I'm looking forward to 2018... check for the next newsletter in your inbox in early January...

Also... I'm currently very far behind in answering emails, so after finals are done, I'm hoping to respond to most of the messages waiting for me. So if you've emailed me in the past few weeks or months but heard nothing back, I'm going to try to respond to as many as possible before WUTP returns in January!

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