11 min read

Wake Up To Politics - February 27, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, February 27, 2018. 252 days until Election Day 2018. 980 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!

Thanks for all of the feedback on the change in format. I'm going to keep experimenting with it, so keep on letting me know what you like/dislike!

Heads-up: I'll be interviewed by Dan Rather on his SiriusXM show "Dan Rather's America" at a little after 10:30 am Eastern Time today. You can tune in by going to player.siriusxm.com and clicking on Channel 102 (Radio Andy).

Trump offers few specifics on gun control action as Senate push stumbles

In an hourlong televised meeting with U.S. governors on Monday, President Trump spoke at length about gun control and actions he may take to curb the number of school shootings.

"We will turn our grief into action. We have to have action. We don't have any action," the president said, describing the cycle of events that often follow mass shootings. "It happens, a week goes by, 'let's keep talking.' Another week goes by, we keep talking. Two months go by -- all of the sudden, everybody is off to the next subject. Then, when it happens again, everybody is angry and 'let's start talking again.' We got to stop."

Yet, he did not endorse any specific legislation to address the issue, almost two weeks after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead. Trump spent most of his speech offering vague support for a variety of potential actions, as he has done in comments since the rampage took place.

On bump stocks, devices that turn semi-automatic rifles into near-automatic weapons, Trump promised that he was "writing that out myself," adding: "I don't care if Congress does it or not." On school safety, he again floated "allowing well-trained and certified school personnel to carry concealed firearms." Trump also said that "we have to confront the issue" of mental health and "improve our early warning system," adding that "we must pursue commonsense measures that protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans while keeping guns out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others," without backing specific solutions.

Finally, the president pledged to "do very strong background checks -- very strong," but offered little detail beyond saying, "If we see a sicko, I don't want him having a gun." Mostly, Trump focused on the NRA, disclosing that he had lunch with leaders of the organization over the weekend. "Don't worry about the NRA," he said. "They're on our side. You guys -- half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of. And you know what? If they're not with you, we have to fight them every once and a while. That's okay." He also saved harsh criticism for the sheriff's deputy in Parkland who waited outside Stoneman Douglas before entering the shooting situation, calling his actions "disgusting" and "a disgrace."

"You know, I really believe -- you don't know until you test it -- but I really believe I'd run in there, even if I didn't have a weapon," the president said. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders later said that Trump meant that "he would be a leader and would want to take a courageous action." Sanders also walked back President Trump's comments on one issue where he had diverged with the NRA: raising the minimum age for gun purchases. "It should all be at 21," Trump said Friday; yet, after the NRA announced its opposition to the idea over the weekend, Sanders said Monday that she couldn't weigh in on which ideas he supported without seeing specific legislation.

Meanwhile, the Senate held its first vote on a gun control measure since the Parkland shooting Monday, with lawmakers attempting to push through the Fix NICS Act, which would encourage government agencies to share information with the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The bill floundered under opposition from Republican Sens. Mike Lee (UT) and Rand Paul (KY), who denied the measure from the unanimous support it needed to be fast-tracked on the floor.

Members of the Senate were also divided on whether Fix NICS was enough to solve the problem. “If we only pass Fix NICS, we’ll be right back here after the next shooting, in nearly the same place. If all Congress does in response to the Parkland shooting is to pass Fix NICS, we won’t have done our job. We must do more than that,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the Senate floor, calling for universal background checks to be added to the legislation.

But Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), a top sponsor of Fix NICS, pushed back on the assertion that more should be added to the bill. "I'm for doing what's achievable," he said. "If we want to get bogged down again, do nothing? To me, that's unacceptable." Cornyn said that his bill is "the most obvious place to start," adding: "I'm not saying finish there, but start there and let's get that done."

The House passed a version of the Fix NICS bill in December, but along with a NRA-backed "concealed carry reciprocity" measure that would require states to recognize concealed-carry permits from other states. It remains unclear if the lower chamber would pass Fix NICS as a stand-alone piece of legislation. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)'s office has said that the lower chamber is waiting for the Senate to take the next step on guns.

President Trump is set to continue his discussions on the issue Wednesday, meeting with lawmakers to discuss legislative proposals. But the window for congressional action this week will have already passed: the House has cancelled all votes after Tuesday out of respect for the late Rev. Billy Graham, who will be lying in honor in the Capitol rotunda later in the week.

Supreme Court declines Trump's appeal in DACA case

The Supreme Court on Monday turned down the Trump administration's appeal of a federal judge's ruling that overturned the president's recission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which shields about 800,000 "Dreamers" from deportation. The high court kept in place the lower judge's order that the Department of Homeland Security must continue to accept renewal applications. "It is assumed the court of appeals will act expeditiously to decide this case," the court said in its brief order declining to take up the matter.

With the Supreme Court's move, the March 5 deadline that Trump had set to end DACA (which is now less than a week away) is rendered meaningless, extending the shaky status of "Dreamers" protected by the program and promising them more months of legal limbo. Without the threat of a deadline hanging over lawmakers, Congress is unlikely to act on immigration in the immediate future, the pressure on the issue having been relieved.

The Russia investigation

HICKS: White House communications director Hope Hicks is scheduled to meet today with the House Intelligence Committee for a 10 am closed-doors interview as part of the panel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Hicks, one of the earliest staffers on the Trump campaign, has been by the president's side during the entire time period being probed by investigators. She is reportedly of particular interest due to her role last summer in crafting a misleading statement about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russian officials at Trump Tower.

Democratic lawmakers have said that they hope she does not follow the lead of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who told the committee that he had been instructed by President Trump to invoke executive privilege, and refused to answer questions from his tenure in the Trump transition team or White House. "We don't know at this point if she will testify completely or fully as others who have served in the administration have, or whether she will do what Steve Bannon did, which was stonewall," House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA) said Monday. "We hope obviously she will be cooperative, but at this point I don't know what we can expect."

ON TRUMP'S MIND: President Trump broke a rare two-day streak of Twitter silence this morning to tweet a series of three quotes about the Russia investigation from various figures on Fox News:

6:59 am... "'He's got a very good point. Somebody in the Justice Department has a treasure trove of evidence of Mrs. Clinton’s criminality at her own hands, or through others, that ought to be investigated. I fully agree with the President on that.' @judgenapolitano on @marthamaccallum Show"

7:28 am... "'I've been skeptical about thecollusion and obstruction claims for the last year. I just don’t see the evidence....in terms of the collusion, it’s all a bit implausible based on the evidence we have.' Jonathan Turley on @FoxNews"

7:45 am... "'We've seen NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION....I have seen nothing, the firing of James Comey and all of the aftermath, that suggests that the President has obstructed justice because he’s exercising his power as the President of the U.S. I just don't see it.' Judge Ken Starr"

And at 7:49 am, he ended the mini-tweetstorm (for now) with a simple message, likely aimed at Russia investigators: "WITCH HUNT!"

SANDERS: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) continues to face questions on the claim in special counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of 13 Russian nationals that Russian trolls supported his campaign, especially after a Politico report that he falsely claimed that a staffer on his presidential campaign shared information about the trolls with the Hillary Clinton campaign.

--- What happened when CNN's Manu Raju attempted to ask the senator about it on Monday, via Twitter: "One of his aides stepped in front of me to shield the senator and prevent me from asking questions. Aide bumped into me, saying 'Not right now.' Sanders then said: 'It’s time for the president of the United States to step up to the plate and do what everyone knows is right and tell the Russians that they’re not going to interfere in America.' Asked him a follow if Russians aided his campaign, he grunted, walked into a [meeting]." Raju adds: "I tried to tell the aide it’s not OK to physically bump a reporter asking questions in the Capitol halls, and all he said repeatedly was 'goodbye' as he departed on an elevator."

Inside the Trump Administration

THE FIRST DAUGHTER: Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter who retains a formal title as a White House adviser, returned from South Korea on Monday after representing her father at the Closing Ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. "The decision to send her to South Korea did not sit well with some senior officials in the West Wing," including White House chief of staff John Kelly, CNN reported.

According to the network, Kelly has long been "irked" by "the blurred line between staffer and daughter" that Ms. Trump toes. "He often feels that she tries to have it both ways, acting as a senior adviser to the president when it suits her and then as his daughter when it doesn't," the report said. "Kelly has remarked privately that Ivanka is just 'playing government,' one source said, and has largely brushed aside her agenda, once disregarding her child tax credit as 'a pet project.'"

The line got even blurrier in an interview with NBC News released Monday, in which Ms. Trump was asked about the accusations of sexual misconduct against her father. "I think it’s a pretty inappropriate question to ask a daughter if she believes the accusers of her father when he’s affirmatively stated there’s no truth to it," she answered, invoking her role as the First Daughter despite her sitting for the interview as a White House official leading a presidential delegation to a foreign country.

EAST WING ADVISER DEPARTS: First Lady Melania Trump has parted ways with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a longtime friend who had been working as an unpaid senior adviser to the first lady's office, the New York Times reported. The end of Wolkoff's White House contract comes after the revelation that her firm was paid $26 million to help plan President Trump's inauguration last year.

Happening today: Arizona special primary election

Voters in Arizona's 8th congressional district head to the polls today to vote in the special primary election in the race to succeed former Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who resigned amid a sex scandal late last year. Former state Sen. Steve Montenegro, a leading candidate in the GOP primary, had received endorsements from Franks and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) -- but he now faces a sex scandal of his own, causing worries that he could win the Republican nomination and then hand the seat to Democrats.

What you may have missed

HEALTH CARE: A new analysis shows the Trump administration's Obamacare changes will increase premiums and the number of Americans without health insurance, according to Bloomberg...

TRUMP, INC.: The Trump Organization announced that it has donated its profits from foreign government spending at its hotels to the U.S. Treasury, but few details were disclosed by the company, the Associated Press reports...

2018 CENTRAL: Democrats are leading in the generic congressional midterm ballot again, per a CNN poll...

NH-01: Bernie Sanders' son Levi Sanders is running for Congress in New Hampshire, WMUR scoops...

CA-04: Actress Stacey Dash, a former Fox News contributor and early Trump supporter, is running in the Republican primary for a House seat in California, via the New York Times...

SHOW-ME STATE UPDATE: The Missouri House launched a committee to investigate allegations against Gov. Eric Greitens (R-MO), the first step toward potential impeachment, as some GOP lawmakers continued calls for the governor to resign, St. Louis Public Radio reports...

Recommended Reads

"The White House’s ‘bloody nose’ strategy on North Korea sounds Trumpian. So why do his aides hate it?" (Washington Post)
"As Primaries Approach, Democratic Divisions Deepen" (National Journal)

"Monica Lewinsky: Emerging from "the House of Gaslight" in the Age of #MeToo" (Vanity Fair)

"Are Democrats reluctant to tell pollsters that they approve of Trump?" (Washington Post)

"Trump's Takeover of Conservatism is Complete and Total" (Politico Magazine)

"The New York Congressman Who Could Lead an Impeachment Charge Against Trump" (New Yorker)
ICYMI yesterday... "How Long Can John Kelly Hang On? (New York Times Magazine)

Today in Washington

TRUMP'S SCHEDULE: At 11 am, President Trump meets with Republican senators on renewable fuel standards.

At12 pm, he receives the Boy Scouts of America Report to the Nation.

At2:45 pm, he meets with Republican House members about trade.

At4 pm, he makes an announcement regarding additional leadership in the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

BRIEFING SCHEDULE: At 2 pm, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders will hold the daily press briefing.

PENCE'S SCHEDULE: Vice President Mike Pence and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson travel to Nashville, Tennessee today. Pence will deliver remarks to the Susan B. Anthony List & Life Issues Institute and the National Religious Broadcasters' Proclaim 18 Convention, and then participate in a Republican Governors Association event with Gov. Bill Haslam (R-TN).

SENATE SCHEDULE: The Senate convenes at 10 am. Following leader remarks, the chamber resumes consideration of the nomination of Elizabeth Branch to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit. Branch's nomination was advanced in a 72-22 vote on Monday, with 25 Democrats joining every Republican present in voting "yea." Branch is one of six Trump nominees expected to be confirmed by the Senate this week; the next one up is former Heritage Action vice president Russell Vought, who has been nominated to be Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Vought's nomination may be advanced today; it had previously been stalled by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) until Texas hurricane relief funding was approved.

HOUSE SCHEDULE: The House meets at 10 am today. The chamber is set to consider the TRID Improvement Act, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, and a bill "to place requirements on operational risk capital requirements for banking organizations established by an appropriate Federal banking agency ."

SUPREME COURT SCHEDULE: "The Nine" hear oral arguments in Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida, testing "whether the  presence of probable cause defeats a First Amendment retaliatory-arrest claim" and in United States v. Microsoft Corp., on "whether a United States provider of email services must comply with a probable-cause-based warrant issued under 18 U.S.C. § 2703 by making disclosure in the United States of electronic communications within that provider's control, even if the provider has decided to store that material abroad."

--- More on the email privacy case involving Microsoft, via NBC News...

*All times Eastern