Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - Valentine's Day!
630 Days until Election Day 2018
1,369 Days until Election Day 2020
Good morning! Reporting from WUTP world HQ (in my bedroom), I'm Gabe Fleisher: this is your wake up call.
White House Watch
- Flynn Resigns Retired Lt Gen. Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor on Monday night in light of revelations that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and others in the White House about conversations with Russian officials during the presidential transition process. Flynn, an early and fervent supporter of President Donald Trump, had served in the influential post for just 24 days.
- "Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador," Flynn said in his letter of resignation, which was promptly accepted by President Trump. "I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology."
- In the letter, Flynn also maintained that he had "always performed my duties with the utmost of integrity and honesty" in over three decades of military and government service and that the Russian calls were mere "to facilitate a smooth transition." However, The Wall Street Journal reported last month that intelligence agencies were investigating Flynn's communications with the Russians, and a number of officials confirmed to the Washington Post last week that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions during the calls. Since the calls took place during the transition, those discussions violate the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments.
- Flynn had previously assured Vice President Pence that he and the Russian ambassador had not discussed sanctions, causing Pence to issue a full denial. Reportedly, the Vice President, angered that his credibility could be hurt in the debacle, was a key player in forcing Flynn out.
- The White House announced on Monday night that retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg, who was initially appointed by Trump to serve as Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, would succeed Flynn as Acting National Security Advisor. Kellogg served in the Army for 36 years, including two tours in Vietnam.
- Flynn also had a long Army career, serving in the military for 33 years until he became Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012. Flynn exited the post in 2014 after disagreements with the Obama Administration. He became known on the 2016 campaign trail for his fiery speeches at Trump rallies and the Republican National Convention, leading audiences in chants of "Lock her up!" referring to Hillary Clinton.
- According to a number of news outlets, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a retired Navy SEAL and former Deputy Commander of U.S. Central Command, is the frontrunner to take Flynn's position. Harward is a protégé of Defense Secretary John Mattis, who led Central Command while Harward was serving as his deputy. Kellogg may also remain in the post permanently (although the New York Times has reported that is "unlikely"), with former CIA Director David Petraeus also a contender. Petraeus, who is reportedly meeting with President Trump this week, resigned from office in 2012 amid allegations that he shared classified information with a woman he was having an extramarital affair with.
- Flyn's announcement came after the Washington Post report on Monday night that the Justice Department warned the White House last month that Flynn had not been truthful about his conversations and "was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail." The White House's message on the Flynn situation had been mixed all day, with senior counselor Kellyanne Conway telling MSNBC that the retired general had Trump's "full confidence" but press secretary Sean Spicer telling reports that the President was "evaluating the situation."
- House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA) celebrated Flynn's resignation in a statement, calling him "a poor choice for...a role in which you need to be a consensus builder, and possess sobriety and steady judgment." Schiff continued: "It is certainly no role for someone who plays fast and loose with the truth. Some Republicans even seemed to be relieved about the resignation, viewing him as too radical and too close with Russia. "Glad Michael Flynn is gone from White House," Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) tweeted Monday. "We need more sanctions on Russia, not fewer!"
- However, House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) refused to critize the departing National Security Advisor. "Washington, D.C. can be a rough town for honorable people," Nunes said in a statement, "and Flynn—who has always been a soldier, not a politician—deserves America's gratitude and respect for dedicating so much of his life to strengthing our national security."
- Even with Flynn's resignation, questions remain about the situation, which only serves to increase suspicion over the Trump Administration's ties to Russia. Congressional Democrats are calling for investigation into whether the President was aware of his aide's conversations with the Russian ambassador, and whether he ordered it.
- The exit of the National Security Advisor is just another example of the chaos and unpredictability that has defined the Trump White House in its first 25 days. "None of us have seen anything like these first couple of weeks," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has served in Washington during five presidencies, told reporters on Monday.
- The President's Schedule As he is faced with appointing another National Security Advisor (and hundreds of key government posts), President Trump has a quieter schedule today than in previous days of his Administration.
- At 10:30am, the President will participate in a listening session on education in the Roosevelt Room.
- At 12:30pm, he will have lunch with Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and his wife Mary Pat Christie in the Roosevelt Room. After ending his own presidential campaign, Christie became the first governor to endorse Trump. Christie was also the first chairman of Trump's transition team, until he was abrutly replaced by Pence after the election. The governor wanted to become Attorney General in the new Administration, reportedly turning down offers to serve as Homeland Security secretary, Veterans Affairs secretary, or in a White House advisory role.
- Upset that he could not lead the Justice Department, Christie did not join the new Administration. However, the New York Times reported earlier this month that the governor hopes Trump turns to him to replace White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who the President reportedly blames for the chaos that has plagued the Administration. Christie told CNN on Sunday that he has "absolutley no intention" of joining the White House after his gubernatorial term expires in January, although he did tell a New Jersey radio station on Monday that "it's frustrating to watch my friend-ill served," referncing the staffing issues in the Trump White House.
- At 2pm, the President will sign his first bill into law in an Oval Office ceremony, signing a resolution overturning an Obama Administration rule requiring oil and gas companies to state taxes they pay to foreign governments.
- Finally, at 4pm, he will meet with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Capitol Hill News
- Today in the Senate The upper chamber convenes at 10am for the day, with an 11am vote scheduled on the confirmation of former wrestling executive Linda McMahon to be Administrator of the Small Business Administration. McMahon has not faced much opposition from Democrats, with the Senate Committee on Small Businesses voting 18-1 last month in her favor. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) was the only member to oppose her nomination.
- Democrats have criticized her for World Wrestling Entertainment's labor practices while she was CEO, and for her lack of experience with public policy. Regardless, she is expected to easily win confirmation today. "Mrs. McMahon made it very clear that she has the experience, understanding, and instincts necessary to bolster America's small business community and advocate for much-needed regulatory reforms," Senate Small Businesses Committee chairman Jim Risch (R-ID) said.
- Cabinet Update McMahon will be President Trump's 12th Cabinet-level pick to be confirmed, after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin were approved on Monday, by votes of 53-47 and 100-0, respectively. While the latter was confirmed unanimously, only one Democrat (West Virginia's Joe Manchin) supported the former. Mnuchin was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence on Monday night in the Oval Office, while Shulkin will be sworn in at 3pm today.
- That leaves ten nominees remaining, six of whom have already been approved by the appropriate committee: South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney (Director of Office of Management and Budget), Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency), billionaire investor Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce), Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke (Secretary of Interior), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development), and former Texas Gov. Perry (Secretary of Energy)
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed cloture on all six of those nominations on Monday, although most of them will not be confirmed until next week. A cloture vote will be held on Mulvaney tomorrow, with a final confirmation vote on Thursday likely. At most, only Pruitt will also be advanced this week.
- That leaves four nominees who have not yet received hearings: former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats (Director of National Intelligence), attorney Robert Lighthizer (U.S. Trade Representative), former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (Secretary of Agriculture), and fast food executive Andrew Puzder (Secretary of Labor).
- Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants (which owns Hardee's and Carl's Jr.), is the most controversial of those nominees, with Democrats criticizing his opposition to increased overtime pay and minimum wage. He has also come under fire for allegations of abusing his ex-wife, which Puzder denies, and for suggestive advertising produced by his company. A number of Republicans have also been hesitant to support Puzder after he admitted to employing an illegal immigrant as a maid.
- CNN reported on Monday that four Republican senators — Susan Collins (ME), Johnny Isakson (GA), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Tim Scott (SC) — are considering opposing Puzder. If at least three of them vote against his nomination, the Labor Secretary-designate will be the first Trump Cabinet nominee to be rejected. All four sit on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which will vote on Puzder's nomination before the full Senate. The nominee is scheduled to testify before the panel on Thursday, although his hearing has been postponed five times as he struggles to submit the required paperwork.
- In an attempt to encourage Republican unity on Puzder, multiple influential business groups have campaigned for the nominee. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to senators last week; according to Politico, more than 100 trade associations organized by the International Franchise Association have joined, including The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Manufacturers, American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Financial Services Roundtable.
- Today in the House The lower chamber will also meet at 10am today, with only one vote scheduled, on the Red River Gradient Boundary Survey Act.
- Today's Question Which former National Security Advisor served simultaneously as Secretary of State?
- Yesterday's Answer On Monday, WUTP reported on the troubles facing White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and the rumor that President Trump may install him into a Cabinet post later to allow for a replacement to take over. The trivia question...name a White House chief of staff to later join the Cabinet in the same Administration.
- A WUTP analysis of White House chiefs of staff found four examples: Jack Lew and James Baker, who both served as CoS and then as Treasury Secretary (the former under Barack Obama, the latter under Ronald Reagan); Donald Rumsfeld, who served as Gerald Ford's CoS and then as his Defense Secretary; and Marvin Watson, who served as Lyndon Johnson's Chief of Staff and then as his Postmaster General (then a Cabinet-level post).
- GREAT JOB...Janice Goodman and Joe Bookman, who answered Baker; Marlee Millman and Dr. Mark Smith, who answered Rumsfeld; and Rick Isserman, who answered Lew!
- Another answer received multiple times was Don Regan, who served as Ronald Reagan's chief of staff after serving as his Treasury Secretary. The other chiefs of staff who held the position after serving in the Cabinet of the same Administration are Joshua Bolton (Bush II), Erskine Bowles (Clinton), Leon Panetta (Clinton), and Samuel Skinner (Bush I).
- Thanks for answering, everyone!
*All Times Eastern
For more on Wake Up To Politics, listen to Gabe on NPR's "Talk of the Nation", St. Louis Public Radio, the Political Junkie podcast, and on StoryCorps; watch Gabe on MSNBC's "Up with Steve Kornacki"; and read about Gabe in Politico, the Washington Post, Independent Journal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Salon, the Globe, and the St. Louis Jewish Light.