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Wake Up To Politics - February 15, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, February 15, 2019. 0 days until government funding expires. 353 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 627 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Trump expected to sign spending bill, declare national emergency

President Donald Trump is expected to sign a bipartisan spending package today, but also declare a national emergency to unilaterally designate additional funding for his signature campaign promise of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The spending legislation easily passed both chambers of Congress on Thursday, clearing the Senate (in an 83-16 vote) and then the House (300-128 vote). Before voting began in the upper chamber, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that President Trump planned to sign the bill and issue "a national emergency declaration at the same time." McConnell, despite having been critical in recent weeks of Trump potentially bypassing Congress to fund the wall by executive action, then added: "I've indicated to him that I'm going to support the national emergency declaration."

The White House soon confirmed Trump's plans. "President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action - including a national emergency - to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

According to ABC News, in a 10 a.m. event in the Rose Garden today, Trump will announce his intention to spend about $8 million in total on the border wall, coming from a mix of sources: the bipartisan spending bill ($1.375 billion), an emergency declaration ($3.5 billion, from the Defense Department military construction budget), and other executive actions ($2.5 billion from the Defense Department's drug interdiction program and $600 million from the Treasury Department's drug forfeiture fund).

The president is empowered under the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to active emergency provisions of law when a national emergency is declared to be under effect — but the same law allows Congress to pass a joint resolution ending the emergency status. House Democrats are already planning to introduce such a resolution: "I will fully support the enactment of a joint resolution to terminate the president's emergency declaration, in accordance with the process described in the National Emergencies Act, and intend to pursue all other available legal options," House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said Thursday.

If the House passes a resolution of termination, the Senate can't ignore it: the law says if one chamber approves the resolution, the other chamber must vote on it within 18 days. However, the president can veto such a resolution, as with any other legislation that comes to his desk. Because of this, Democrats are also plotting a potential legal challenge to the declaration.

If the Senate does vote on the president's national emergency, as is likely in the coming weeks, a number of Senate Republicans could defect and break with President Trump. Many of them were taken aback by McConnell's announcement on Thursday and criticized Trump for the move.

"I don't think this is a matter that should be declared a national emergency," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told reporters. "It's a bad idea," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) added. "I don’t believe that the National Emergencies Act contemplated a president repurposing billions of dollars outside the normal appropriations process," Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said. "I also believe it will be challenged in court and is of dubious constitutionality. It undermines the role of Congress."

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a joint statement that "declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act" and "a gross abuse of power of the presidency."

Pelosi, in remarks to reporters, also pointed out how the action could backfire on Republicans: "If the president can declare an emergency on something he has created as an emergency, an illusion that he wants to convey, just think about what a president with different values can present to the American people," she said, citing "the epidemic of gun violence in America" as on one issue on which a Democratic president could invoke the emergency power going forward.

The Rundown

Barr confirmed: The Senate confirmed William Barr as Attorney General in a 54-45 vote on Thursday, with three Democrats (Alabama's Doug Jones, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema) in favor of his confirmation and one Republican (Kentucky's Rand Paul) opposed. Barr was sworn in hours later, formally giving him control of the Justice Department and oversight over special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. With Mueller reportedly winding down his probe, Barr (who previously served as AG for the final 14 months of George H.W Bush's presidency) will be charged with deciding how much of the special counsel's final report is released to Congress and to the public.

McCabe book: Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year, is releasing a memoir, "The Threat," next week. A "60 Minutes" interview with McCabe is scheduled to air on Sunday, but the segment already made a splash when excerpts were released on Thursday.

In the interview, McCabe says that he authorized both counterintelligence and criminal inquiries into President Trump almost immediately after James Comey was fired as FBI Director in May 2017, and confirms that Justice Department officials were so alarmed by Trump's decision that they discussed taking extraordinary measures, including recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office or having Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wear a wire to secretly record meetings with the president.

Democratic debate schedule: The Democratic National Committee announced plans Thursday for the party's first two presidential primary debates later this year. The first debate will take place in June and be sponsored by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo; the second will be held in July, hosted by CNN. Both debates could be held over two weeknights, with the field of candidates being randomly separated into two 10-person stages if necessary.  

The DNC said that candidates could qualify to participate in the debates by reaching 1% in three approved polls or by raising at least $65,000 from 200 donors in 20 different states.

WUTP Interview: Team Bloomberg sees no rush in making decision on presidential bid

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is considering a Democratic presidential campaign, but he sees no rush in having to make a decision, his communications chief Jason Schechter told Wake Up To Politics in an interview this week.

Bloomberg "hasn't decided to run yet," Schechter said, and doesn't feel "any particular pressure" to announce soon. "The good thing for us is that we're not driven by the same timeline as some of the other candidates or prospective candidates," Schechter said. "If you think about why you make a decision early, it really comes down to fundraising and staff. For Mike, he's got the good fortune to have his own resources and to be self-funded and he's got his own staff."  

Bloomberg, who served as mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013, is also a businessman with an estimated net worth of $51.8 billion. Schechter said these resources would give him the immediate "advantage" of being able to "run a 50-state campaign." Politico reported this week that Bloomberg was prepared to spend $500 million from his own pocket to work to deny President Trump a second term, either going towards his own potential presidential campaign or helping the eventual Democratic nominee if he doesn't run himself.

Although he wouldn't confirm the exact dollar amount, Schechter said that this bifurcated way of looking at Bloomberg's 2020 options is correct. "Plan A is that Mike runs," he said. "The Plan B is that he continues to have a material impact from the outside." According to Schechter, the ex-mayor's decision will hinge on "where he can make the most impact" on the race, as one of the candidates or from the outside. "I think whether he's a candidate or whether he's outside, [Bloomberg] plans to be very heavily involved in 2020, one way or another," the communications hand said.

If Bloomberg is to run, the interview with Schechter gave some hints as to where his focus would be. Schechter, who serves as chief communications officer for Bloomberg's company and formerly served as a spokesman in the Clinton White House, repeatedly stressed Bloomberg's work on climate change, gun safety, immigration reform, and education, issues that he would likely focus on in a presidential campaign. Schechter also revealed to WUTP that data reviewed by Bloomberg's team shows that the billionaire's "personal story, his bio, really tests off the chart," with Democratic voters responding to the narrative of his self-made rise.

Bloomberg would run as a "strong moderate," Schechter said, pointing to election victories by moderate candidates in the 2018 midterms as proof that such a candidate "could do very, very well in a Democratic primary" and then "have no trouble going toe-to-toe with Trump."

Schechter added: "Democratic voters, by and large, are going to want to look at who will get things done, who will make progress, who will beat Trump...and our view is that a strong moderate candidate could check those boxes for a lot of voters."

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White House schedule

POTUS: At 10 a.m., President Trump "delivers remarks on the national security and humanitarian crisis on our southern border" in the Rose Garden. In his remarks, the president is expected to announce plans to sign the bipartisan spending bill as well as a national emergency declaration.

At 11:30 a.m., the president receives his intelligence briefing. Then, at 4:00 p.m., President and First lady Trump will depart Washington, D.C. to spend the weekend at their Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where they will arrive at 7 p.m. tonight.

VP: Vice President Mike Pence was in Krakow, Poland early this morning, where he and Second Lady Karen Pence participated in a tour of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Later today, the Pences travel to Munich, Germany.

Congress schedule

No business will be conducted in either chamber of Congress today.

Supreme Court schedule

The justices of the Supreme Court meet for their Friday conference today. According to Bloomberg News, the justices could decide to hear a challenge to the Trump administration's attempts to add a question about citizenship to the decennial census. A New York federal judge has barred the question from being added, and the Trump administration is hoping the Supreme Court will accept its appeal on an expedited basis, so the ruling can be reversed by June, when the Census Bureau says it must start printing census questionnaires.

*All times Eastern