Wake Up To Politics - February 16, 2017
Thursday, February 16, 2017
628 Days until Election Day 2018
1,356 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.
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White House Watch
- Labor Nominee Puzder Withdraws President Trump's nominee for Secretary of Labor, fast food executive Andrew Puzder, withdraw his nomination for the post on Wednesday. Puzder had faced opposition from Democrats and labor unions for months due to his opposition to raising the minimum wage; this week, opposition also grew from Republicans, worried by his past employment of an undocumented worker, allegations of domestic abuse, and his support for immigration.
- Today, he was scheduled to testify at his confirmation hearing, which had been postponed five times as Puzder failed to submit the needed ethics paperwork. By Wednesday, CNN reported that senior GOP lawmakers were urging the White House to withdraw Puzder's name, as the nominee had notched at least four assured Republican "nay" votes, making confirmation impossible.
- "After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor," Puzder, CEO of the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr., said. "I am honored to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor and put America's workers and businesses back on a path to sustainable prosperity."
- Democrats immediately began celebrating Puzder's demise. "Andrew Puzder’s withdrawal as Labor Secretary is a victory for the American worker," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement. "Puzder should never have even been nominated to lead the Labor Department and Senate Republicans clearly recognized this too."
- Puzders's withdrawal is another loss for a White House that has descended into chaos, less than four weeks after taking office, coming after the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The development is also a favorable sign for congressional Republicans, who are clearly exerting some influence over an unpredictable President. And it is yet another confirmation of the power held by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, who did not support Puzder over his immigration stance, according to Politico, and of the diminished power held by Vice President Mike Pence, a longtime friend of Puzder's.
- According to the Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) informed the White House on Wednesday that Puzder's nomination was dead, and withdrawal was the only option. However, after the nominee pulled out, McConnell publicly said Puzder had always had his support. "I strongly supported Andy Puzder because he is qualified, knows how to improve the lives of hard-working Americans and knows how to get our economy back on track," McConnell's statement after the withdrawal read. "I'm confident he will continue to find ways to contribute his time and talent to have a positive impact on our nation. I respect his decision to withdraw his nomination for Secretary of Labor."
- Puzder is the first Trump Cabinet nominee to withdraw, although Army Secretary nominee Vincent Viola also withdraw from consideration earlier this month. According to the Senate Historian's office, 14 Cabinet nominees have been withdrawn, including three of Barack Obama's nominees, two of George W. Bush's, and five of Bill Clinton's.
- According to Bloomberg, President Trump hopes to quickly submit another name for the post, and is choosing from a list of four finalists: former National Labor Relations Board members Peter Kirsanow and R. Alexander Acosta, Michigan State University professor Joseph Guzman, and former South Carolina Labor Secretary Catherine Templeton. The Bloomberg report said that Trump met with Acosta and Guzman on Wednesday, and will meet with Templeton on Friday.
- Any of these picks would add diversity to the Trump Cabinet: Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who testified last month at Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing, would be the second African-American member of the Cabinet. Either Acosta or Guzman would become the first Hispanic, while Templeton would be the third female Cabinet secretary appointed by President Trump.
- Other potential picks include Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) and Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI).
- Personnel Update CBS News reported on Wednesday that Vice Admiral Robert Harward, former Deputy Commander of U.S. Central Command, has been offered the position of National Security Advisor.
- Words of Wisdom WUTP subscriber Paul Kane, a veteran congressional reporter at the Washington Post, tweets: "Cabinet nominees only fall when POTUS's party bolts. Left needs to u'stand this in its pressure tactics -- appealing to Rs is way to win."
- After weeks of opposition from Democrats, Puzder's nomination only began to falter after Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Susan Collins (R-ME) announced hesitations.
- The President's Schedule President Trump starts his day at 10:30am with a "congressional listening session in the Roosevelt Room.
- At 1:25pm, he will speak over the phone with President Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia.
- At 2:30pm, Trump will meet with Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Oval Office.
- At 3:15pm, the President will hold a ceremony in the Roosevelt Room as he signs his second piece of legislation into law, another resolution striking down an Obama Administration regulation under the Congressional Review Act. The resolution repeals an Interior Department rule banning coal mining near streams. Proponents of the rule say it protects water from coal debris, while opponents claim the rule was never meant to conserve the environment but to punish the coal industry.
- Finally, at 3:50pm, President Trump will tape his Weekly Address in the Cabinet Room. The tradition of weekly addresses began with President Ronald Reagan's Saturday radio broadcasts, and was continued by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. President Barack Obama posted his Weekly Address on YouTube; President Trump has streamed his addresses on Facebook Live.
- The Permanent Campaign For the third weekend in a row, President Trump will head to the "Winter White House," his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, on Friday. Among his plans for the weekend? A campaign rally at Orlando-Melbourne International Airport hangar on Saturday. That's right: with over 1,3000 days until Election Day 2020, Trump will already hold another rally.
- White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the event is "being run by the campaign." Reminder: Trump filed FEC paperwork for a re-election bid on Inauguration Day (per WUTP subscriber Ryan Struyk of ABC News, Obama didn't file until April 2011, while Bush waited until May 2003.) The FEC filing allows him to continue raising money while in the White House, long before any other candidates have filed.
- The New York Times' Maggie Haberman reported on Wednesday that the campaign is even airing radio ads in Florida ahead of the rally.
Capitol Hill News
- The Latest: Investigating Flynn Here's the latest updates on the investigation of the Trump Administration's ties with Russia, including alleged intervention in the U.S. elections and Michael Flynn's calls with the Russian ambassador about sanctions before taking office:
- Senate Intelligence Committee Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made clear on Wednesday that no special panel would investigate the allegations, but the Intelligence Committee would launch a review. “I don’t think we need to go through setting up a special committee,” he said. “But we are going to look at Russian involvement in the U.S. election. It’s a significant issue.”
- Democrats will ensure the election meddling is part of the investigation: “It is now readily apparent that General Flynn’s resignation is not the end of the story. It is merely a beginning of a much longer story,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Wednesday.
- While some Democrats have called for a special investigative committee to be set up, others have pointed out that the Intelligence Committee has been probing allegations about Russia for weeks, and creation of a new panel would only serve to delay their findings.
- Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a top member of the Intelligence Committee, told Bloomberg that "everybody, including the president, is well served if anybody that reasonably should be asked to provide information to the committee, including testimony, testifies." Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he expects Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was also fired for ties to Russia; former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who informed the White House about FLynn's calls weeks ago; and Flynn himself are all likely witnesses.
- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday, requesting a briefing for the committee on "the circumstances that led to" Flynn's resignations.
- They also requested "transcripts of Mr. Flynn's intercepted calls and the FBI report summarizing the intercepted calls referenced in the media," signaling a larger investigation of the former Nationa Security Advisor's contact with Russia.
- House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Judiciary Committee Meanwhile, two top GOP lawmakers are calling for an investiation of the leaks that led to reports of Flynn's contact. House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Judiciary Commitee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) penned a letter to Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz on Wednesday citing news reports sourcing "current and former U.S. officials," some of which revealed classified intelligence.
- "Generally, collection activities by intelligence agencies are classified, as are the products that result from those activities. This is to ensure the continued integrity of the sources and methods used," the two lawmakers wrote. "Therefore, it seems probable that the fact that an intelligence agency monitored the call, if it did, as well as any recording of the call, would also be classified."
- Chaffetz and Goodlatte added: "We request that your office begin an immediate investigation into whether classified information was mishandled here." The leaks have also been a point of concern for President Donald Trump, who has tweeted repeatedly on the subject.
- This morning, the President tweeted: "Leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem in Washington for years. Failing @nytimes (and others) must apologize!" Also this morning: "The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!" On Wednesday, he said on Twitter: "The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by "intelligence" like candy. Very un-American!"
- Today in the Senate The Senate will convene at 10am today. The chamber will open with 10 minutes of debate on the nomination of Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) to be Director of the Office of Management of Budget, before holding a final confirmation vote at about 10:30am. Mulvaney, known as a fiscal conservative, is expected to receive 51 votes, with Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-AZ) voting "nay."
- McCain announced on Wednesday from the Senate floor that he could not support Mulvaney due to the nominee's amendment cutting $3.5 billion in defense spending. "Congressman Mulvaney has spent his last six years in the House of Representatives pitting the national debt against our military," McCain said.
- No Democrats are expected to support Mulvaney, but he will likely be confirmed after Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Susan Collins (R-ME), who previously had been on the fence, announced their support. "I talked to him about his position on defense spending, the fact that he has never voted for a budget or a debt-limit increase and what he said to me was that he understood his role as OMB director is very different from his role as a congressman from a conservative district in South Carolina," Collins said. "And I thought that was a good answer.”
- After the Mulvaney vote, the Senate will hold 10 minutes of debate on the confirmation of state Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R-OK) to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and then a cloture vote on Pruitt. If Pruitt achieves a simple majority today, a confirmation vote will likely be held tomorrow afternoon.
- Collins announced on Wednesday that she will oppose Pruitt on his final confirmation vote, who has sparked controversy for his skepticism of climate change and lawsuits of the agency he has been taped to lead. The Maine senator released a statement calling Pruitt "an accomplished attorney with considerable knowledge about environmental laws," but said "his actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.”
- As McCain supported Mulvaney in his Wednesday cloture vote, Collins will still vote for Pruitt today, citing a long-held belief that all presidential nominees should receive an up-or-down vote. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Jon Tester (D-ND), all moderate Democrats up for re-election next year in states won comfortably by President Trump, are seen as potential "yea" votes for Pruitt.
- Also today: two lower-level Trump nominees will face questioning from senators today. Health policy consultant Seema Verma, who has been nominated to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will testify at a Finance Committee hearing at 10am. In addition, Trump's nominee to be Ambassador to Israel, bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, will testify before the Foreign Relations Committee at 10:30am.
- Friedman, who represented President Trump and the Trump Organization in the past, served as co-chair of the Trump campaign Israel Advisory Committee. The nominee was very critical of the Obama Administration's Middle East policy, opposing the Iran nuclear deal, and has questioned the two-state solution for peace between Israel and Palestine. President Trump also hesitated to support the plan in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.
- Four former U.S. Ambassadors to Israel, appointed by Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, penned a letter to the Senate opposing Friedman on Wednesday, citing his "extreme positions."
- Today in the House Meanwhile, the House also meets at 10am, with votes scheduled for two more resolutions striking down Obama Administration regulations. The first resolution the chamber will consider reverses an Interior Department rule invalidating Alaska's easing of bear-hunting restrictions on National Park property.
- A statement from the office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said Tuesday that the rule "infringes on Alaska's right to sustainably manage fish and wildlife...[and] could massively restrict the rights of hunters on public lands." However, environmental groups including the National Parks Conservation support the rule; the organization said in a statement last week that Alaska's plan allows "egregious hunting practices" and would "encourage killing more bears," limiting species diversity.
- The second regulation that the House will vote to strike down is the Health and Human Services Department's Title X rule prohibiting states from blocking federal funds going to health care providers that assist with abortions, such as Planned Parenthood. “We must return to a point where states are empowered to make their own health care decisions based on the unique needs of their community and their constituency without fear of reprisal from the federal government,” Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), the resolution's sponsor, said last week.
- Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus co-chiar Louise Slaughter (D-NY), meanwhile, called the resolution the “most serious threat women have faced so far this Congress,” saying "the government should get out of the business of taking away women’s health care rights.” According to USA Today, since 2011, 3 states have restricted access to federal grants for groups providing abortions.
- Tuesday's Answer On Tuesday, the question was: which former National Securit Advisor served simultaneously as Secretary of State?
- The answer: Henry Kissinger, who was appointed National Security Advisor at the outset of Richard Nixon's presidency, in January 1969. He served as Secretary of State from September 1973 until the end of Gerald Ford's presidency in January 1977, but did not relinquish his NSA post until November 1975.
- GREAT JOB...Steve Gitnik, Joe Bookman, Dan Filliol, Matt Neufeld, Miles Kwiatek, Ken Chackes, and Marlee Millman!
*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.