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Wake Up To Politics - February 16, 2016

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016
4 Days until the New Hampshire primary
276 Days Until Election Day 2016 I'm Gabe Fleisher for Wake Up To Politics, and reporting from WUTP world HQ in my bedroom - Good morning: THIS IS YOUR WAKE UP CALL!!!
To send me questions, comments, tips, new subscribers, and more: email me at wakeuptopolitics@gmail.com. To learn more about WUTP and subscribe, visit the site: wakeuptopolitics.com, or like me on Twitter and Facebook. More ways to engage with WUTP at the bottom.    Capitol Hill News

  • Vulnerable Republicans Join Pledge to Block Supreme Court Nominee A number of vulnerable Republican senators running for re-election this November joined colleagues in pledging to block President Obama’s forthcoming nominee to succeed conservative icon Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
  • Sens. Rob Portman and Pat Toomey (R-OH) were two of the last voice agreement, with twin statements Monday.
  • “I believe the best thing for the country is to trust the American people to weigh in on who should make a lifetime appointment that could reshape the Supreme Court for generations,” Portman said.
  • “It makes sense to give the American people a more direct say in this critical decision. The next court appointment should be made by the newly-elected president," Toomey said. “President Obama insists that he will nominate someone for the Court. He certainly has the authority to do so. But let’s be clear - his nominee will be rejected by the Senate.”
  • Their calls to punt the Supreme Court appointment to the next President was echoed by other vulnerable Republicans, such as Ron Johnson (WI) and Kelly Ayotte (NH). That so many Republican senators, even as they run for re-election in swing states, are backing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on the Supreme Court vacancy, shows the Republican Party is unified in a strategy marching toward November: blocking whomever President Obama appoints.
  • Democrats hope the strategy is flawed, and some challengers have already began to pounce on opposition to Obama’s as-yet-unnamed nominee as obstructionist.
  • To try to avoid such attacks, both Portman and Toomey tried to maintain images as moderates, while following McConnell’s lead on the vacancy. Toomey tried to argue it was too soon after Scalia’s death to already focus on a replacement (“It has been less than 72 hours since Justice Scalia's passing. There has already been too much politicking around the issue of his replacement.”), while both Portman and Toomey assured that they would consider the next president’s nominee regardless of party.
  • “The next Court appointment should be made by the newly-elected president,” Toomey said. “If that new president is not a member of my party, I will take the same objective non-partisan approach to that nominee as I have always done.”
  • “I have supported some of President Obama's federal court nominees and opposed others, based on their qualifications,” Portman stated, similarly. “Whether the next president is a Republican or Democrat, I will judge any nominee on the merits, as I always have.”
  • Still, both of their challengers (and opponents of Ayotte’s and Johnson’s) have already used the issue against them. In Ohio, Portman’s likely challenger, former Gov. Ted Strickland (D), has already criticized the incumbent on the issue. “This is bigger than politics or parties – it's about the institutions of our democracy,” Strickland said, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “We cannot allow a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States to stand vacant for the sake of these kinds of crass political calculations.”
  • Strickland continued, hitting Portman directly: “Sen. Portman is failing to do his job, shirking his responsibilities to our nation, jeopardizing the institutions of our democracy and engaging in exactly the kind of dysfunctional behavior that frustrates Ohioans about Congress.”
  • Kate McGinty, Toomey’s likely challenger, hit the Pennsylvanian for his stance on the vacancy, in an email to supporters, writing: “This ugly partisan response is exactly the sort of obstructionism we've come to expect from the Senate under Mitch McConnell and Pat Toomey.”
  • While this outbreak of unity among Senate Republicans was unexpected to Democrats (Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) predicted on ABC’s “This Week” that “a lot of the mainstream Republicans are going to say: ‘I may not follow this.’”), it may also play to their favor, as they gamble that public pressure will turn on Republicans if Obama’s nominee lingers for months.
  • President Barack Obama is expected to nominate a replacement for Justice Scalia in the coming weeks.

2016 Central

  • Today on the Trail All six Republican presidential candidates will continue campaigning in South Carolina today, ahead of the Palmetto State’s primary on Saturday. Each contender will participate in a various combinations of Meet and Greets, Town Halls, Forums, and such in cities across the state.
  • In the closing stretch, many candidates are pulling out their top surrogates, such as Ted Cruz, who is holding two rallies with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan today. Cruz will also deliver a major address on the military, with Perry (a U.S. Air Force veteran) on stage.
  • According to his campaign, Cruz will “unveil his plan to rebuild our military and ensure the United States has the resources it needs to protect our vital national security interests and maintain its position as a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world” in the speech.
  • Although he will arrive in South Carolina later today, John Kasich begins his day in Michigan. Although the state does not vote until March 8, Kasich is already setting his sights past the conservative Palmetto State in favor of more moderate primaries he can win the down the road, to ensure viability as the campaign continues.
  • On the Democratic side, both candidates continue to court African-African votes in South Carolina – even if they are not both in the state (which does not vote until Tuesday on the Democratic side). Bernie Sanders begins the day in the Palmetto State, with Faith Leaders Prayer Breakfast featuring R&B singer-songwriter Shirley Murdock, actor Danny Glover, and former NAACP president Ben Jealous. Sanders will then travel to Georgia for a tour of Morehouse College, and a rally outside the Historically Black College/University (HBCU).
  • Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, will court African-American votes in South Carolina from New York. Clinton is spending the day in Harlem, meeting with Rev. Al Sharpton, National Urban League president Marc Morial, and NAACP president Cornell Brooks, and delivering a major speech on “how we must break down all the barriers holding Americans back and her agenda to combat systemic racism and build ladders of economic opportunity for African American families”.

White House Watch

  • The President’s Schedule President Barack Obama will convene Day 2 of the first-ever U.S.-ASEAN summit with Asia-Pacific leaders. Representatives of the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are all on hand for the summit, which is taking place at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California, as are Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Trade Representative Jason Froman, and President Obama himself.
  • Today is the second and final day of the summit, and will include another plenary session (this one on “security issues, specifically protecting peace, prosperity, and security in the Asia Pacific,” according to the White House), a family photo with the gathered leaders, and a press conference.
  • Security concerns are a key reason for the summit, with issues being discussed including China’s claim to the South China Sea, terrorist attacks in Indonesia, and Asian-Pacific Muslims joining the Islamic State group. In addition, the summit comes after the United States and eleven nations (including four ASEAN members) signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Question of the Day

  • Today’s Question Former President Jimmy Carter won his second Grammy Award Best Spoken Word Album on Sunday. Which 2016 presidential candidate has also won a Grammy in that category?
  • Email me at wakeuptopolitics@gmail.com with your answer! Correct respondents get their name in tomorrow’s edition of Wake Up To Politics.
  • Yesterday’s Answer On Monday, I asked for the “first” achieved by the late Justice Antonin Scalia with his appointment to the Supreme Court. The answer...he was the first Italian-American Justice.
  • GREAT JOB... Lyle Hendricks, Randy Fleisher, Rick Isserman, Joan Zucker, Bobby Frauenglas, @GenMthinker (via Twitter), Ken Wittenberg, Gail Smith, Joe Bookman, and Amy Sklansky!
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For more on Wake Up To Politics, listen to Gabe on NPR's "Talk of the Nation, the Political Junkie podcast, and St. Louis Public Radio; watch Gabe on MSNBC's "Up with Steve Kornacki, and read about Gabe in Politico, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Globe, and the St. Louis Jewish Light