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Wake Up To Politics - February 7, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, February 7, 2019. 8 days until government funding expires. 361 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 635 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Virginia Democrats face crisis

Virginia Democrats were thrown further into turmoil Wednesday, as controversies embroiled the state's top three elected officials.

State Attorney General Mark Herring (D-VA) acknowledged on Wednesday that he wore blackface at a college party in 1980, just days after Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) acknowledged that he had also worn blackface in the past amid the disclosure of a racist photograph on his medical school yearbook page. "That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt," Herring said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Dr. Vanessa Tyson, the California professor who has accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D-VA) of sexual assault, came forward on Wednesday with a statement alleging that he forced her to perform oral sex on him during the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

Fairfax has repeatedly denied the allegation and maintained that he had Tyson's consent for their sexual encounter. "I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual," Tyson said in her statement. In a twist, Fairfax has retained the same law firm that represented Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings last year, while Tyson has retained the same law firm that represented Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, who also worked at a university in California.

"It is remarkable that all three of Virginia's statewide, state-level elected officials are now embroiled in such controversy at the same time," Kyle Kondik, a political analyst who serves as communications director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said to Wake Up To Politics. "Perhaps there is some comparable situation historically, but if so I cannot think of it."

After Fairfax and Herring, the man third in line for Virginia's governorship is Republican House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, who assumed control last year after a name was picked out of a bowl to settle a tied race.  

While national Democrats were quick to call for Northam's resignation, they have been slower to respond to Herring's disclosure and the allegations against Fairfax. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) has been one of the few lawmakers to weigh in on the latter: "I believe Dr. Vanessa Tyson," she tweeted on Wednesday.

"When it was just Northam who was under fire, it seemed as though he’d buckle to public pressure and leave," Kondik said. "But now that Fairfax and Herring are damaged, too, he may be able to hang on to office. It’s a disaster for Democrats as they try to win back the state legislature in the fall." But the analyst declined to make predictions as to the outcome of the upcoming state legislative elections: "At this rate, we can hardly predict where we'll be nine days — or even nine hours — from now," he pointed out.

The latest: Border security negotiations

The February 15 deadline is ticking for lawmakers to avoid another government shutdown, and members of the bipartisan, bicameral border security conference committee are reportedly zeroing in on an agreement.

The 17-member panel is hoping to have a tentative deal in place by Friday, giving both chambers of Congress one week to pass the measure. "I think everybody pretty much feels that Friday is the deadline to get it done," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told reporters Wednesday.

The top leaders in both parties have mostly given the dealmakers space during the negotiations. "Left to their own devices, if they have a bipartisan agreement, I will support it," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has sung a similar tune, seemingly moving away from his previous stance that a funding bill would need President Donald Trump's support before receiving a vote on the Senate floor. "I think the conferees ought to reach an agreement, and then we'll hope that the president finds it worth signing," he said.

The White House has adopted an equally hands-off approach, with President Trump also sitting out of the negotiations — although his signature will be needed on the final agreement. According to the Washington Post, both sides have made concessions in the closed-door talks, "with Democrats saying money for border barriers was on the table and Republicans acknowledging they won’t get Trump the $5.7 billion he has sought for his wall."

It is unclear whether Trump will accept a deal that does not include his full $5.7 billion request. Such an agreement could trigger him to declare a national emergency to unilaterally finance the construction of a border wall, which congressional Republicans have urged against. According to the New York Times, McConnell warned Trump last week that Senate Republicans would vote to overrule an emergency declaration.

The presidential wild card aside, congressional leaders seem confident that another shutdown will be averted. "There will not be another shutdown," Pelosi told Politico. "No, it's not going to happen."

Trump claims "presidential harassment" as Democrats launch oversight efforts

House Democrats have been in control for just over a month now, and they are beginning to assert their newfound powers to investigate the executive branch.

The House Ways and Means Committee holds a hearing at 2 p.m. today to consider "legislative proposals and tax law related to presidential and vice presidential tax returns," as Democrats mull their options to request President Trump's tax returns, which he has refused to release.

In addition, at 10:30 a.m. today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the Trump administration's family separation policy, while the House Judiciary Committee votes to issue a subpoena to Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker "to secure his appearance and testimony" before the panel on Friday. House Democrats are also dogging a number of other Trump Cabinet secretaries with requests for testimony and information, including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (who is scheduled to appear before the Homeland Security Committee early next month) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (the likely target of Democrats' first subpoena fight, over documents relating to the Treasury Department's decision to lift sanctions on companies tied to a billionaire Russian oligarch).

The House Democratic investigators evoked the president's ire on Wednesday as the House Intelligence Committee voted to launch a sweeping investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and links between the Trump campaign and Russia, including the president's finances. Trump told reporters Wednesday that the probe amounted to "presidential harassment," calling Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) "a political hack who's trying to build a name for himself."

The president also tweeted this morning that "the Dems and their committees are going 'nuts.'" And at the State of the Union address on Tuesday, he lambasted "ridiculous partisan investigations," adding: "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she regarded the president's remarks as "an all-out threat," but promised it would not stop the Democratic majority from carrying out their oversight role. "It's our congressional responsibility, and if we didn't do it, we would be delinquent in that," she said.

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White House schedule

POTUS: At 8 a.m., President Trump delivers remarks at the 2019 National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton. The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event organized by The Fellowship Foundation, a Christian organization, and attended by members of Congress, Cabinet officers, and the diplomatic corps, as well as thousands of other guests. Every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has participated in the event.

--- From 2017: "Trump asks for prayers for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings at National Prayer Breakfast" (Washington Post)

At 11:45 a.m., the president receives his intelligence briefing. At 12:45 p.m., he has lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

At 1:45 p.m., President Trump signs a national security memorandum launching the "Women's Global Development and Prosperity" (WGDP) initiative. "This new initiative will for the first time coordinate America’s commitment to one of the most undervalued resources in the developing world—the talent, ambition and genius of women," First Daughter Ivanka Trump, a White House senior adviser, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. "This initiative aims to help 50 million women in developing countries realize their economic potential by 2025.

VP: At 8 a.m., Vice President Mike Pence joins President Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast.

At 11:30 a.m., the vice president delivers remarks to High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Directors and Deputy Directors.

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate convenes at 12 p.m. today. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of S.47, the Natural Resources Management Act. Roll call votes on the measure are expected today.

House: The House convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber is scheduled to vote on four bills:

  1. H.R. 494 – Tiffany Joslyn Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Program Reauthorization Act of 2019, as amended
  2. H.R. 450 – Preventing Crimes Against Veterans Act of 2019, as amended
  3. H.R. 507 – Putting Trafficking Victims First Act of 2019
  4. H.R. 752 – Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act

The chamber will also begin consideration of H.R. 840, the Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act.

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court is currently between sittings.

*All times Eastern