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Wake Up To Politics - February 26, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, February 26, 2018. 253 days until Election Day 2018. 981 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!

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: From the February 26, 2015 edition of Wake Up To Politics, three years ago today: "Trump Considers Presidential Run...Again." Highlight: "Even though most political watchers in and out of his own party view him as little more than a joke, Trump insists he is not kidding around."

GUN CONTROL: The big question this week: will Congress achieve any action on gun control, as the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas School continue to exert pressure on lawmakers? Both houses of Congress return to D.C. today after recess last week, but the House will hold its last votes of the week on Tuesday since the late Rev. Billy Graham is "lying in honor" in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday and Thursday. Action on guns could be difficult in this limited timeframe, although Politico Playbook reports that President Trump has pushed lawmakers for the House to vote "this week" on a gun control measure.

Politico has a good roundup of the proposals on the table. The measure most likely to see passage is the Fix NCIS Act, which is sponsored by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) and already passed the House in December. The NRA-backed bill would strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by encouraging states and federal agencies to send more information to the database. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said at the CNN town hall last week that he and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) planned to attempt to force a vote on the Fix NCIS Act today by unanimous consent. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) may object, preventing the bill from receiving a vote.

Also on the table: a bill to raise the age limit for AR-15s from 18 to 21; although President Trump, Rubio, Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), and other Republicans have voiced support for such legislation, the NRA's Dana Loesch made the organization's opposition clear, likely dooming the plan. "These are just things that he's discussing right now," Loesch said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, referring to the President.

On Fox News' "Justice with Jeanine Pirro" on Saturday, Trump seemed to endorse the bill, however. “It doesn't seem to make sense that you have to wait until you are 21 years old to get a pistol, but to get a gun like this maniac used in the school, you get that at 18,” Trump said, adding that he had "explained that to the NRA."

In addition, over the weekend, Trump continued pushing for arming teachers as a way to encourage school safety. "Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them," he tweeted on Saturday. "Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Shouldgetyearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again - a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States." Asked by NBC News in an interview in South Korea on Sunday, Ivanka Trump said the proposal is "not a bad idea" and "needs to be discussed."

According to Bloomberg, the White House is also studying "red flag laws," which have been implemented in five states; these measures allow law enforcement authorities to use restraining orders to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who are seen as dangerous.

Trump is clearly clamoring for action: “I think we’re going to have a great bill put forward very soon having to do with background checks, having to do with getting rid of certain things and keeping other things, and perhaps we’ll do something on age,” he told Pirro on Saturday, adding: We are drawing up strong legislation right now having to do with background checks, mental illness. I think you will have tremendous support. It’s time. It’s time.”

He brought the issue up again at the Governors' Ball on Sunday night, saying gun control would be "first on our list [of items to discuss with the governors], because we have to end our country of what's happening with respect to that subject."

Do House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agree? That remains to be seen, and their responses this week (after a week of silence, per the Washington Post) could signal which measures, if any, have a future in the GOP-controlled Congress.

--- New CNN poll out Sunday: 70% of Americans now support "stricter gun control laws," the highest level since December 1993, compared to 52% in October.

RUSSIA PROBE: Developments over the weekend...

Former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates pleaded guilty to "conspiracy against the United States" and "making false statements to the Special Counsel's Office and FBI agents" on Friday, announcing that he had agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Gates became the fifth person to plead guilty in the Mueller probe, and the third former member of the Trump campaign to do so.

Later on Friday, Mueller hit Gates' business partner, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, with new charges, filing a superseding indictment that made new allegations involving their lobbying work on behalf of Ukraine.

--- Key tweet from NYT's Maggie Haberman: "Folks focusing on how Gates helps Mueller get Manafort are missing the forest for the trees. Gates was in a lot of meetings, stayed on as liasion to campaign and RNC after Manafort was fired, worked on inaugural committee. He knows a lot about a lot."

Finally, on Saturday, the House Intelligence Committee released the redacted Democratic rebuttal to Republican claims of FBI abuses. The minority memo defends the FBI's surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, pushing back on the GOP claim that the Christopher Steele dossier was a key piece of evidence in obtaining the surveillance warrant, while also defending the dossier. The Democrats say the FBI's application to surveil Page made "narrow use" of the dossier, which they said was partly corroborated by "multiple independent sources." The new memo also quotes from the application to show that the application does mention Steele's partisan motives, after the GOP memo said that it didn't discuss Steele's funding from the Clinton campaign and DNC.

--- Recommended reads with similar themes: "Mueller and Trump: Born to wealth, raised to lead. Then, sharply different choices." (Washington Post); "Mueller Is Gaining Steam. Should Trump Worry?" (New York Times)

--- Also, via the Wall Street Journal: President Trump's lawyers continue to consider ways for him to testify before Mueller, "provided the questions he faces are limited in scope and don’t test his recollections in ways they say could unfairly trap him into perjuring himself." Options being weighed by Trump's legal team include providing written answers to questions from Mueller and having Trump sit for "limited face-to-face testimony."

FOREIGN RELATIONS: North Korea is "willing to have talks" with the U.S., the South Korean government announced on Sunday as the PyeongChang Winter Olympics came to a close. “The North agrees that ­inter-Korean relations and North Korea- U.S. relations should ­improve together,” South Korea's Blue House said in a statement after a meeting between North and South Korean diplomats. "We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. "In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end. "

--- Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has scrapped plans to make his first visit to President Trump at the White House, the Washington Post reports, after a "testy call between the two leaders ended in an impasse over Trump's promised border wall."

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: President Trump told Fox News' Jeanine Pirro in a Saturday night interview that he is eyeing Veterans Day or Fourth of July to hold a military parade in Washington, D.C. "We’ll see if we can do it at a reasonable cost, and if we can’t, we won’t do it, but the generals would love to do it, I can tell you, and so would I,” Trump said. “I think it’s great for our country.”

TRADE: President Trump has told confidants that "he wants to impose the harshest tariffs on steel and aluminum imports recommended by the Commerce Department," Bloomberg reports. The report said that he favors "a global tariff of 24 percent on steel imports, the most severe of three options presented to him in a report in January," although Axios says he actually prefers a 25 percent tariff "because it's a round number and sounds better ."

--- White House trade adviser Peter Navarro could soon receive a new title and more influence, a number of news outlets have reported. His "ascendance may signal that the balance of power is shifting toward those who have backed Mr. Trump's get-tough approach to trade policy and away from those who have sought to restrain it," the New York Times reported.

DRUGS: President Trump "has said he would love to have a law to execute all drug dealers" in the United States," Axios reported on Sunday. According to the report, Trump has discussed the idea with friends and associates, pointing to Singapore's mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking offenses. "He often jokes about killing drug dealers...He'll say, 'You know the Chinese and Filipinos don't have a drug problem. They just kill them," a senior administration official told Axios.

--- Trump has previously praised Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte for his extrajudicial killings of suspected drug offenders: according to a leaked transcript of an April call between the two presidents, published by the Washington Post in May, Trump said Duterte has been doing an "unbelievable job on the drug problem" in the Philippines.

INSIDE THE WEST WING: Is President Trump reverting to Campaign Trump? In his Sunday night newsletter, CNN's Brian Stelter raised this question, after Trump went off-script during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday (including a reading of "The Snake"!) and his call-in appearance to Jeanine Pirro's Fox News show on Saturday. A possible reason for this return to old behaviors? A secret meeting on Wednesday with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, where Lewandowski (thought to be banned from the West Wing by chief of staff John Kelly) urged Trump to stray from his prepared remarks more and give more freewheeling, campaign-style speeches, according to Axios.

--- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein alerted the White House in early February that "significant information requiring additional investigation" would further delay presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner's security clearance process, the Washington Post reported. It remains unclear whether Kushner maintains his access to top-secret information, now that Kelly's February 23 deadline for taking away such access from staffers with prolonged background investigations has passed. "General Kelly will make that call — I won't make that call," President Trump told reporters Friday. According to Politico, Kelly and Kushner are now in "limbo," with the chief of staff not planning to recommend Trump grant Kushner a waiver to receive full security clearance, or to resign if the president does so.

--- Will "Big Luther" return to Washington? Former Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who was appointed to the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions but defeated by Roy Moore in the GOP special primary election and then succeeded by Doug Jones, is being eyed by White House aides for an administration position, Politico reports. He has been discussed as a candidate to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Export-Import Bank, according to the report.

--- Another Axios scoop... Trump wants his longtime personal pilot, John Dunkin, to be tapped as head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Dunkin has reportedly sat for an interview for the post.

--- Profiles of top players: "How Long Can John Kelly Hang On" (New York Times Magazine), featuring a number of interesting anecdotes, including this one... "Before Kelly's Senate hearing, an aide who helped him prepare, Blain Rethmeier, noticed the general had neglected to attach a flag pin to his label. 'Blain,' Kelly told him, declining the pin, 'I am an American flag.'"; "Melania Trump re-emerges amid marriage scrutiny" (CNN), delivering some of her first official public remarks of the year today; "Linda McMahon Gets a Ringside Seat for Trump Mania" (New York Times), on the pro wrestling magnate turned Small Business Administrator.

2018 CENTRAL: Longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was denied the endorsement of the California Democratic Party this weekend. At the state party's annual convention, just 37% of delegates backed Feinstein's bid for a fifth term, while 54% supported state Senate president pro tempore Kevin de León, who has outflanked the 84-year-old senior senator to her left. Neither received the 60% necessary to notch the party's formal endorsement, although the rebuke of the veteran lawmaker is likely to sting. Both Feinstein and de León will enter the June primary along with candidates from both parties; California's unqiue system then advances the top two candidates from the primary, regardless of party, to the November general election.

--- Going along with that trend... the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has declined to endorse Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) in his primary challenge from the left, Politico reports. Lipinski, who is pro-life, is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House.

OBAMA BOOK CLUB: Former First Lady Michelle Obama's highly-anticipated memoir, "Becoming," will be released on November 13, Penguin Random House announced on Sunday. The publisher called the book "a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling" that will take readers from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her eight-year tenure in the East Wing of the White House "with unerring honesty and lively wit."

--- In recent weeks, a number of Obama alumni have announced book deals as well. Former White House speechwriter Pat Cunnane's "West Winging It" is being released on April 17, former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes' "The World as It Is" is being released on June 12, and former communications director Dan Pfeiffer's "Yes We (Still) Can" is being released on June 19.

--- According to the Financial Times, the Obamas are being paid a record-breaking $65 million for their joint book deal with Penguin Random House. They are being represented by Washington superlawyer Bob Barnett, whose clients include Bill and Hillary Clinton, George W. and Laura Bush, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and many others.

POLLING: Two polls out Sunday found the president's approval ratings at a new low point for those organizations. A CNN poll found that 35% of Americans approve of his job performance, down from 40% last month; meanwhile, a USA TODAY/Suffolk poll pegged his approval rating at 38%.

VIDEOS TO WATCH: Jake Tapper pressed Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel on his response to the Parkland shooting in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "I've given amazing leadership," Israel insisted, saying he would not resign despite calls for his ouster from 74 Florida Republican lawmakers due to "incompetence and dereliction of duty." Israel's police department has come under focus amid reports that they ignored repeated warnings about the Parkland gunman and that his deputies waited before going into Stoneman Douglas High School during the shooting. Watch

--- CPAC came to a close on Saturday, but not without controversy. Ian Walters, the communications director for the American Conservative Union (ACU), which organizes CPAC, caused a stir on Friday when he suggested at a dinner that former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele was only chosen to lead the party because he is "a black guy." ACU chairman Matt Schlapp appeared on Steele's SiriusXM radio show on Saturday, apologizing and saying that Walters' words were "unfortunate," while also urging Steele to "have some grace" and pointing out the ex-RNC chair's criticisms of President Trump. Watch

TRUMP'S DAY: At 10:40 am, President Trump hosts the 2018 White House Business Session with U.S. governors.

At 11:45 am, he receives his daily intelligence briefing.

At 12:30 pm, he has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt.

At 2:30 pm, he meets with credit union representatives.

At 3:15 pm, he meets with House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX).

PENCE'S DAY: Vice President Mike Pence will join the President for the 2018 White House Business Session and for lunch with Perdue and Pruitt. At 7:10pm, he and Second Lady Karen Pence participate in the Indiana Society of Washington, D.C.'s "Tribute to a Hoosier Vice President and Second Lady" at the National Museum for Women in the Arts.

TODAY IN CONGRESS: Both houses of Congress return from their weeklong Presidents' Day recess today.

The Senate convenes at 3 pm. Following the prayer and pledge, Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) will be recognized to deliver Washington's Farewell Address, continuing an annual Senate tradition that stretches back to 1862.  Following the address, the chamber will begin consideration of a slate of six Trump nominees expected to be confirmed this week. At 5:30 pm, the Senate will hold a procedural vote on the first one, Elizabeth Branch, a Georgia Court of Appeals judge nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit.

--- "President Donald J. Trump's nominees have been confirmed at a historically low rate," the White House emailed reporters on Friday, blaming Democratic "obstruction." According to the administration, only 51% of Trump's nominees have been confirmed, compared to 79% of Obama's nominees at this point in his presidency.

The House convenes at 12 pm. The chamber is set to vote on the following seven bills under "suspension of the rules," a process to speed up debate on bipartisan measures that are supported by of 2/3 of members:

  • the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act;
  • the SOAR to Health and Wellness Act;
  • the MISSION ZERO Act;
  • the Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act;
  • the Sickle Cell Disease Research, Surveillance, Prevention, and Treatment Act;
  • the Action for Dental Health Act;
  • and a resolution "recognizing the importance and effectiveness of trauma-informed care."COURT REPORT: The Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Janus vs. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) today, a prominent case that could strike a major blow to public unions. Mark Janus, an Illinois state child support specialist, brought the case, challenging laws that require government employees to pay a fee to public unions that represent them. More via SCOTUSblog...

*All times Eastern