Wake Up To Politics - February 5, 2019
I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, February 5, 2019. 10 days until government funding expires. 363 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 637 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trump to call for "cooperation" in State of the Union despite ongoing partisan stalemate
President Donald Trump will deliver his second State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress at 9 p.m. tonight. According to the White House, his speech will focus on unity and cooperation, a familiar approach for a president who has often used formal speeches to reach for bipartisanship only to quickly resort to partisan tactics. In this case, he seems to be doing both at the same time.
"The president is going to call for an end to the politics of resistance, retribution, and call for more comity," senior White House adviser Kellaynne Conway told reporters Monday. "He's calling for cooperation...and also compromise." Trump himself said last week that the speech will stress "unity." And according to an excerpt released by the White House in advance of the address, the president is set to declare: "Together we can break decades of political stalemate. We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America's future."
But the speech comes in the midst of one of the most bitter political stalemates in recent memory, as border security negotiations drag on with a ticking deadline for government funds to run out once again, just weeks after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history took place. Not even scheduling this year's State of the Union was devoid of political gamesmanship: the speech was initially set to take place in late January, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) postponed it due to the shutdown.
In the run-up to his supposedly cooperation-focused speech, President Trump has also made a series of comments that would point in the other direction, calling bipartisan border talks a "waste of time" last week and repeatedly threatening to declare a national emergency to unilaterally finance the construction of a border wall. The president is not expected to make a formal emergency declaration tonight, although he will likely focus much of the speech on his hardline immigration agenda. Trump's threats to declare a national emergency have been met with opposition from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike.
In an interview with CBS News that aired this weekend, Trump also went after Speaker Pelosi, calling her "very bad for our country." Tonight, for the first time, Pelosi (along with Vice President Mike Pence) will sit behind Trump as he speaks from the House rostrum, a constant reminder of the divided government over which he now presides.
A senior administration official told reporters last week that Trump's address will be titled "Choosing Greatness," and will focus on five themes: immigration, trade, infrastructure, health care, and national security. In addition to once again making his case for a border wall once again, issues Trump is expected to discuss include the situation in Venezuela, recent measures that would loosen restrictions on late-term abortion, and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement he has submitted to Congress.
Trump has also teased that he will touch on various topics during the speech, such as sharing details of his upcoming second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The White House's list of the president's guests for the State of the Union can also offer hints as to the focus of his speech: this year, they include relatives of a couple who were murdered by an illegal immigrant last month, a Department of Homeland Security human trafficking agent, a prisoner released due to the First Step Act, a recovering opioid addict, and a sawmill worker whose plant was reopened after the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
The president's speech will be followed by the Democratic response, delivered by Stacey Abrams, the former George House of Representatives minority leader who came short in a gubernatorial race last fall and is now mulling a run for Senate.
--- How to watch: The State of the Union will be aired on all of the top broadcast and cable networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc.) as well as on PBS, C-SPAN, and Fox Business News. The address can also be viewed in Spanish on Univision and Telemundo, which will also be carrying the Spanish-language Democratic response by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The speech will also be streamed online on the White House's YouTube channel and on various other social media platforms.
Prosecutors issue sweeping subpoena for Trump inaugural committee documents
Via the New York Times:
"Escalating one of the investigations into President Trump’s inaugural committee, federal prosecutors ordered on Monday that its officials turn over documents about donors, finances and activities, according to two people familiar with the inquiry."
"The subpoena seeks documents related to all of the committee’s donors and guests; any benefits handed out, including tickets and photo opportunities with the president; federal disclosure filings; vendors; contracts; and more, one of the people said."
"The new requests expand an investigation prosecutors opened late last year amid a flurry of scrutiny of the inaugural committee. And they showed that the investigations surrounding Mr. Trump, once centered on potential ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential election, have spread far beyond the special counsel’s office to include virtually all aspects of his adult life: his business, his campaign, his inauguration and his presidency."
The Latest: Northam, Fairfax controversies
The Democratic governor and lieutenant governor of Virginia are facing twin controversies as the future of their administration hangs in the air.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) is still ignoring calls from within his own party to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page. According to CNN, Northam begged his Cabinet members for support on Monday, saying he did not want to resign for fear of being tagged a "racist for life." The network also reported that a staff meeting later in the day Northam said he needed more time to decide his path forward.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D-VA) — who would succeed Northam if he chooses to resign — is facing an allegation from a woman that he sexually assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The claim was first published Monday by Big League Politics, the same right-wing website that first posted Northam's racist yearbook photo, and then again by the Washington Post.
"This allegation is false," Fairfax's office said in a statement. "At no time has the Lt. Governor assaulted anyone at any time or at any place." Fairfax did acknowledge a sexual encounter with the woman, but he called it "100 percent consensual." According to NPR, the woman has hired the same Washington, D.C.-based law firm that represented Christine Blasey Ford in her allegations against Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation process last year.
Fairfax has also insinuated that Northam could be behind the publication of the accusation: "Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this uncorroborated smear comes out?" he said when asked if the governor was responsible. He later backed off of that claim, hinting instead that it could have been Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a potential rival for the governorship in 2021.
Trump taps former lobbyist as Interior Secretary
President Trump announced on Monday that he planned to nominate David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist and currently the No. 2 official at the Interior Department, as the agency's new chief. Bernhardt has served as Deputy Interior Secretary since August 2017, and as Acting Secretary since Ryan Zinke resigned last month amid mounting ethics investigations.
"David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!" the president said on Twitter.
Prior to joining the Trump administration, Bernhardt served in the Interior Department under President George W. Bush and later was a natural resources lobbyist. According to the Washington Post, he entered the department with so many potential conflicts of interest from his lobbying days that carries a small card listing them.
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White House schedule
The only public event on President Trump's schedule today: his second State of the Union address. The president will depart the White House for the Capitol at 8:30 p.m., arriving at 8:40 p.m and then delivering the address at 9:10 p.m.
Trump is scheduled to depart the Capitol at 9:55 p.m. and return to the White House at 10:05 p.m.
Senate: The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber will recess from 12:30 p.m. until 2:15 p.m. for weekly caucus meetings. At 3:30 p.m., the Senate will vote on passage of S.1, the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act, which would impose additional sanctions on Syria and push back against the movement to boycott and divest from Israel. The measure was advanced on Monday in a 72-24 vote. In addition, the Senate voted 70-26 on Monday to add an amendment to the bill expressing opposition to the "precipitous withdrawal" of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
The Senate is also scheduled to hold a procedural vote today on S.47, the Natural Resources Management Act, a package of public lands management measures, including reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Ahead of the State of the Union address tonight, senators will begin gathering in the Senate chamber at 8:20 p.m. and depart from the Senate chamber at 8:25 p.m. to proceed as a body to the House chamber.
House: The House meets at 12 p.m. today. No votes are expected, as the House will recess during the afternoon for a security sweep in advance of the State of the Union. House members must be seated by 8:25 p.m. for the president's address; the Joint Session will be gaveled in at about 8:35 p.m.
Supreme Court schedule
The Supreme Court is currently between sittings.
*All times Eastern