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Wake Up To Politics - February 6, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, February 6, 2019. 9 days until government funding expires. 362 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 636 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

State of the Union 2019: Trump mixes message of unity with hardline rhetoric

President Donald Trump delivered his second State of the Union address on Tuesday night, an 82-minute speech that mixed repeated calls for bipartisanship with familiar partisan rhetoric.

The speech included multiple unifying flourishes, with the president spending ample time introducing World War II veterans, Holocaust survivors, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, a child cancer survivor, and other guests seated in the gallery, to applause from both sides of the aisle. Urging lawmakers to "re-ignite the American imagination," he repeatedly professed his intent to work with both parties, referring to his policies as "not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda," but "the agenda of the American people."  

"We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution, and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good," the president said. "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 for all of the bipartisan signals, the president sent just as many that he would only double down on the hardline rhetoric he has pursued since entering office. Trump railed against "ridiculous partisan investigations," adding: "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation." He sharply criticized recent measures in New York and Virginia to loosen restrictions on late-term abortions, saying they "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments from birth." And he took aim at far-left Democrats, saying "we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country" and declaring: "America will never be a socialist country."

President Trump also expounded on his signature issue, immigration, with less than two weeks to go until government funding runs out if the two parties don't ink a border security agreement. Referring to the situation at the border "an urgent national crisis," he called on members of Congress to "defend our very dangerous southern border" from "ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers." He promised a border wall would be constructed, declaring: "I will get it built."

"This is a moral issue," Trump said, adding: "No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America's political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards."

But despite his earlier calls for "cooperation" and "compromise," the president offered no deal that would appease Democrats on border security; in fact, he referred to bipartisan negotiations as a "waste of time" last week.

While Trump made no mention of the recent partial government shutdown (the longest in U.S. history), 2018 Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams mentioned the stalemate in her official Democratic response, calling the funding gap a "stunt engineered by the president." Across the board, her speech focused on a very different set of issues than the president's address, including gun violence, health care, climate change, and voter suppression.

For the most part, Trump also did not acknowledge the changed dynamics in the House chamber he was addressing, with newly-minted Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sitting behind him throughout the speech. He did, however, include a call-out to the 102 female House members, many of whom were wearing white to honor the suffragettes. "We also have more women serving in Congress that at any time before," he said. "That's great. Really great. And congratulations." At another point, when the female lawmakers cheered and congratulated each other when he spoke about women receiving "newly created jobs," the president smiled. "You weren't supposed to do that," he said.

And while the speech had its share of moments that landed on both sides of the aisle (when members of both parties chanted "U-S-A" after Trump referenced the record number of female lawmakers, or they sang "Happy Birthday" to a survivor of the Holocaust and the Pittsburgh synagogue attack), it seemed as though the address was mostly delivered with the Republican lawmakers in mind.

While the Democrats, led by Pelosi on the rostrum, spent much of the speech stone-faced, Republicans repeatedly showered the president with standing ovations, cheers, and patriotic chants. Afterward, many GOP lawmakers and surrogates focused on the more bipartisan aspects of the speech, while most Democrats dismissed the call for comity.

"The president showed tremendous outreach towards bipartisanship and drew applause from both sides of the aisle," Steven Cheung, a former Trump campaign and White House communications aide, told Wake Up To Politics. "This is the type of leader President Trump is — he's the only person uniquely qualified to find common ground in order to unite both Republicans and Democrats." Fellow ex-Trump administration aide Boris Epshteyn, now the chief political analyst for Sinclair Broadcasting, made a similar point to WUTP. "President Trump absolutely knocked it out of the park," he said, adding that "the president continues to work to unify the country."

But another former White House aide, this one a speechwriter under former President Barack Obama, felt differently. David Litt described the speech as "infuriating," telling WUTP: "It bounced between topics, with no clear throughline or flow. It was really long. It couldn't decide if it was upbeat and olive-branchy or American Carnage redux." Litt added: "In the end, the president did what he always does, which is appeal to his bade and alienate everyone else."

According to a CNN instant poll, the speech did have the most partisan viewing audience of any State of the Union since 2001, with viewers who were "17 points more likely than the general public to identify as Republicans, and were largely fans of the President." Among those who did watch, CNN found that 59% had a "very positive" reaction to the address, but reactions were split along familiar partisan lines: 87% of Republicans had a "very positive" reaction, compared to just 8% of Democrats.

While 62% of Republicans in the poll said they believed President Trump would succeed in increasing cooperation between the two parties, just 5% of Democrats agreed.

--- One other piece of news from the address: President Trump announced plans for a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, set for February 27-28 in Vietnam.

The Investigations

--- Happening today: The House Intelligence Committee will hold its first meeting of the new Congress at 10 a.m. One item of the agenda: voting on "the transmission of certain committee transcripts to the Department of Justice," widely interpreted as a vote to send transcripts of witness testimony before the panel to special counsel Robert Mueller.

--- CNN: "Federal prosecutors in New York have requested interviews in recent weeks with executives at the Trump Organization, according to people familiar with the matter, signaling a growing potential threat to President Donald Trump and those in his orbit from criminal investigations by the Manhattan US Attorney's office."

--- New York Times: "Federal prosecutors in recent weeks have been interviewing witnesses about the flow of foreign money to three powerful law and lobbying firms that Paul Manafort recruited seven years ago to help improve the image of the Russia-aligned president of Ukraine, people familiar with the questioning said."

"The previously unreported interviews about the flow of the money are among the latest developments in the investigation of key figures who worked at the three firms — Mercury Public Affairs, the Podesta Group and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom."

2020 Central

--- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) revealed after the State of the Union that she will announce her 2020 plans on Sunday in Boom Island Park in Minneapolis. Klobuchar, who is headed to Iowa later this month, is expected to join the Democratic presidential primary field; she will be the fourth female Democratic senator to launch a presidential campaign or an exploratory committee.

--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), who is being encouraged by many Democrats to run for the White House, told Oprah Winfrey in a live interview on Tuesday that he had been "thinking about running for president," promising a decision by the end of February. "I'm so excited at the prospect of being able to play that role," he said.

--- The Washington Post reported Tuesday on a previously undisclosed example of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who has formed a presidential exploratory committee, identifying her race as "American Indian": on her 1986 registration card for the State Bar of Texas. Warren apologized in an interview with The Post, saying: "I can't go back. But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted."

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White House schedule

POTUS: At 1:30 p.m., President Trump announces his nominee for the presidency of the World Bank. Trump is expected to tap a longtime critic of the institution: David Malpass, who currently serves as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs and previously served in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Traditionally, as the bank's largest shareholder, the U.S. nominee for the position is chosen as president.

At 3:00 p.m., Trump delivers remarks before a gathering of 79 ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS at the State Department headquarters.

At 6:30 p.m., he participates in a dinner with the National Prayer Breakfast host committee and pastors.

VP: Vice President Mike Pence travels to Portsmouth, Virginia today. At 12:05 p.m., he receives a briefing at U.S. Coast Guard Base Portsmouth. At 12:40 p.m., he tours the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter BEAR. At 1:30 p.m., he delivers remarks to Coast Guard and DHS personnel.

At 6:30 p.m., the vice president joins President Trump for the dinner with pastors.

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of S.47, the Natural Resources Management Act, which would reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, increase recreational access to federal lands, and add to dozens of national parks and other federal land holdings.

House: The House meets at 10 a.m. today. The chamber is scheduled to vote on five pieces of legislation:

  1. H.R. 876 – Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act of 2019, as amended
  2. H.R. 866 – Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019
  3. H.R. 543 – To require the Federal Railroad Administration to provide appropriate congressional notice of comprehensive safety assessments conducted with respect to intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation
  4. H.R. 831 – Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019
  5. H.R. 66 – Route 66 Centennial Commission Act

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court is currently between sittings.

*All times Eastern