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Wake Up To Politics - February 4, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, February 4, 2019. 11 days until government funding expires. 364 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses (less than a year!). 638 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Not a subscriber? Sign up to receive the newsletter at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam faces pressure to resign over racist photo

Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) is facing calls to resign from Democrats across the country after the revelation on Friday that his 1984 medical school yearbook page included a photo of an individual in blackface and another dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

In a statement on Friday night, Northam acknowledged that he was in the photo and apologized, saying: "I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now." But by Saturday afternoon, his story had changed. In an hour-long press conference, Northam insisted that he was not one of the people in the yearbook photo and said he planned to continue serving as Virginia's governor.

"I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo," Northam said. "This was not me in that picture. That was not Ralph Northam." However, in the press conference, the governor did disclose a different time he wore blackface, in an attempt to imitate Michael Jackson at a 1984 dance contest.

Even before the press conference, Northam had already lost the support of almost the entire Democratic Party establishment. Nearly every announced and prospective 2020 Democratic presidential candidate publicly urged him to resign, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), as well as former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro. Others making similar calls included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Virginia House and Senate Democrats, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, and Northam's predecessor, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA).

The press conference did not seem to improve his position within the party. Soon after Northam left the podium on Saturday, Virginia's two Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both former governors, and the dean of the state's congressional delegation, Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott, released a joint statement calling on Northam to step down. "After we watched his press conference today, we called Governor Northam to tell him that we no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia and that he must resign," they said.

Northam so far has resisted the calls for his resignation ("I intend to continue doing the business of Virginia," he said on Saturday), but he summoned his senior staff meeting for an unscheduled meeting Sunday night just before the Super Bowl started. According to the Washington Post, Northam is considering resigning but has yet to reach a decision.

If Northam does step down, he would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D-VA), who would become the fifth African-American governor in U.S. history.

Inside the White House

--- President Donald Trump spends about 60% of his scheduled time in unstructured "Executive Time," Axios reported, after being leaked his private schedules for nearly every working day in the past three months. Trump normally spends his "Executive Time" in the White House residence, watching TV and making phone calls. According to Axios, the private schedule leak "rattled" White House officials and set off a bevy of internal speculation. White House Director of Oval Office Operations Madeleine Westerhout called the leak "a disgraceful breach of trust" on Twitter, adding that the schedules don't show "the hundreds of calls and meetings [the president] takes every day."

--- In a pre-Super Bowl interview that aired on CBS News on Saturday, President Trump defended the large number of acting officials currently serving in his administration. "I like acting because I can move so quickly," he said. "It gives me more flexibility." But according to the Washington Post, top congressional Republicans are growing frustrated with the unfilled posts, which include the top posts at the Justice, Defense, and Interior Departments, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. "It's a lot, it's way too many," Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said.

--- The White House announced on Saturday that Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the president's former physician and failed Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee, would serve as Assistant to the President and Chief Medical Advisor. Jackson remains under Pentagon investigation over the allegations of improper behavior that sunk his Cabinet nomination.

2020 Central

--- With the Iowa caucuses less than a year away, five former or current elected officials have now joined the Democratic presidential primary, while three more have formed exploratory committees. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) jumped in on Friday. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) launched her campaign on Saturday. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is expected to formally join the field this Saturday. According to The Atlantic, former Vice President Joe Biden is "close to saying yes" to a presidential bid, but still hesitating. Per Politico, several potential candidates (including former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock) are biding their time, sizing up the field and considering late announcements.

--- On the Republican side: "Trump campaign takes steps to prevent a challenge within GOP" (Associated Press)

--- Policy debates: "Medicare for All Emerges as Early Policy Test for 2020 Democrats" (New York Times)

"Democrats' tax plans reflect profound shift in public mood" (Washington Post)

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White House schedule

--- At 11:45 a.m., President Trump receives his intelligence briefing.

At 12:45 p.m., he has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence.

--- The only event on the vice president's public schedule is his lunch with the president.

Congress schedule

--- The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. today. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of S.1, the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act. At 5:30 p.m., the Senate will vote on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's amendment to the measure opposing the "precipitous withdrawal" of U.S. forces from Syria or Afghanistan, followed by a procedural vote on the amended legislation.

--- The House meets for a pro forma session at 11:30 a.m. today. No votes are expected.

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court is currently between sittings.

*All times Eastern