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Wake Up To Politics - February 8, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, February 8, 2018. 271 days until Election Day 2018. 999 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!

Facing midnight deadline, Senate leaders strike two-year budget deal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) unveiled a massive, two-year budget deal on Wednesday to boost federal spending and increase the debt limit, providing a path out of Washington's long-running cycle of fiscal showdowns.

The budget deal must pass both houses of Congress by midnight to avert a government shutdown, but it faces significant opposition from factions of both parties in the House. The deal would raise the spending caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 by about $300 billion over the next two years, increasing the limit on military spending by $165 billion and the limit on domestic spending by $131 billion.

The deal was attached to a six-week continuing resolution (CR) passed by the House on Tuesday, which extends government funding through March 23. Congressional negotiators hope that they can reach consensus on a long-term funding bill by then, which would make this the fifth and final CR of the fiscal year. The 652-page budget deal unveiled on the Senate floor also raises the debt ceiling until March 2019, ahead of a mid-March default deadline that Congress would have faced; includes nearly $90 billion in disaster relief to aid areas hit by hurricanes and wildfires last year; and extends funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for another four years, adding to the six-year extension approved by Congress last month.

Both McConnell and Schumer praised the package. The former called it "the first real sprout of bipartisanship" after months of "fiscal brinkmanship," while the latter expressed his "hope [that] we can build on this bipartisan momentum and make 2018 a year of significant achievement for Congress." The deal is expected to easily pass the Senate today in the early afternoon.

In the House, on the other hand, Democrats and Republicans alike have points of opposition. Progressive Democrats are furious that the deal does nothing to protect so-called "Dreamers," undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which currently shields them from deportation, is set to expire on March 5. House Minority Nancy Pelosi (D-NY) held the House floor for over eight hours on Wednesday, urging House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to act on legislation protecting "Dreamers." According to the House Historian, Pelosi's marathon speech was the longest to be delivered in the lower chamber in at least a century.

Reading testimonials from DACA recipients, Pelosi said to Ryan: "Our basic request is to honor the House of Representatives, give us a chance to have a vote on the floor." Pelosi was hoping for an assurance from the Speaker like the one McConnell has given Senate Democrats: that he will put an immigration bill to the floor for debate next week. Ryan's office said he will only move ahead with a DACA bill "that the president supports." Lacking such a commitment from Ryan, Pelosi said that the budget agreement "does not have my support."

On the Republican side, Speaker Ryan is urging his members to support the package but running into a wall of opposition. Fiscal hawks who championed the 2011 budget caps are staunchly opposed to the significant increases in federal spending; the House Freedom Caucus announced its opposition to the deal on Wednesday, a bloc of at least 30 conservative Republicans who will vote "no." With conservative groups such as FreedomWorks and Heritage Action slamming the plan, many other GOP lawmakers are expected to follow.

Ryan, therefore, has to stitch together 218 votes for the plan, searching for enough rank-and-file Republicans to be matched with enough moderate Democrats who don't want to be seen as risking another government shutdown over immigration. The plan does have the support of Republican defense hawks, enticed by the large defense spending increases, and members representing states assisted by the disaster package, who are hesitant to vote down such large aid for their constituents. Democrats also see many of their priorities funded by the package, as Pelosi noted, including nondefense spending that will go to CHIP, disaster aid, community health centers, combatting opioids, infrastructure, and other issues.

President Donald Trump endorsed the plan on Wednesday, tweeting:"The Budget Agreement today is so important for our great Military. It ends the dangerous sequester and gives Secretary Mattis what he needs to keep America Great. Republicans and Democrats must support our troops and support this Bill!"

Key White House aide resigns amid allegations of domestic abuse

White House staff secretary Rob Porter, one of President Trump's lesser-known but more influential aides, announced his resignation on Wednesday, facing allegations of abuse by two ex-wives. Porter reportedly came under no pressure from the White House to step down, with chief of staff John Kelly and others urging him to "stay and fight" the accusations.

Porter's resignation came after the Daily Mail published allegations by both of his ex-wives on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. They both detailed verbally and physically abusive marriages; the first ex-wife also shared photos of herself with a black eye seemingly given to her by Porter, while the second ex-wife also shared a protective order she filed after Porter violated a temporary separation agreement. CNN later reported that a third women, Porter's then-girlfriend, had reached out to the two-ex wives describing "repeated abuse" as well.

Announcing plans to step down on Wednesday, Porter denied the allegations, which he called "outrageous" and "simply false." He added: "I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign."

Porter's status in the Trump White House had been rising for months, serving as Kelly's gatekeeper to the Oval Office, overseeing the flow of papers and people that reached the President's desk. Especially in a White House that was known for its chaos and freewheeling nature in its early months, Porter's role was crucially important in supporting Kelly's mission of enforcing discipline in the West Wing.

In a statement to the Daily Mail on Tuesday night, Kelly praised Porter as "a man of true integrity and honor," calling him "a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional" about whom he "can't say enough good things." Before he resigned, the White House also issued statements defending Porter by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), his former boss, and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. According to reports, White House communications director Hope Hicks, who is dating Porter, was involved in the Trump team's defense of him.

On Wednesday night, Kelly continued to defend his former ally: "I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming Chief of Staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation," he said. Kelly also said that he was "shocked by the new allegations," and underlined that "there is no place for domestic violence in our society."

However, according to CNN, Kelly and other senior White House aides "knew for months" about the allegations (although they were caught off guard by the photographs of his ex-wife's black eye). Politico reported that Porter had been prevented from receiving full security clearance due to the 2010 protective order, which Kelly had been aware of.

But "nobody pressured him to resign," Axios reports; instead, Kelly and other top officials urged Porter "to stay and fight." According to the Washington Post, Porter was "talked out of" resigning on Tuesday, but decided to step down on Wednesday after photographs seeming to showcase his abuse were published.

--- Big picture: The White House bungled its response to the Porter allegations, continuing to stand by the alleged domestic abuser even after he announced his resignation. Porter returns to the West Wing today, although it is expected to be his last day (no departure date has been officially announced). The situation is the latest in a line of struggles President Trump and his team have had contending with similar allegations, despite his political rise coinciding with a national conversation on sexual harassment sparked by the #MeToo movement.

Porter joins a line of Trump allies who have faced various allegations, including:

  • former campaign manager Core Lewandowski (accused of grabbing a female reporter)
  • former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and failed Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder (accused of domestic violence by ex-wives)
  • Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (accused of sexually assaulting teenage women)
  • former RNC finance chairman Steve Wynn (accused of sexual harrasment by numerous employees).

Trump, who has faced allegations of sexual misconduct himself, stood by all of these men and declined to condemn any of them, despite public pressure. The White House's response to the Porter allegations is also expected to plague chief of staff John Kelly, who has repeatedly frustrated Trump since joining the President's staff, as he will face questions over what he knew about the allegations and when he knew it, and why he was so unwavering in his support of Porter.

The Rundown

FBI texts: "Text From 2016 Shows Obama’s Interest in FBI Employees’ Work" (Wall Street Journal)

Russian meddling: "Tillerson warns U.S. is not ‘better prepared’ for new Russian election meddling" (NBC News)

Syria: "U.S.-Backed Coalition in Syria Strikes Pro-Assad Forces" (New York Times)

Pence in Asia: "Openly gay figure skater Adam Rippon declined chance to speak with Vice President Pence" (USA TODAY)

A new emoji: "Maine senator claws his way to lobster emoji victory" (CNN)

The President's Schedule

At 7:40am, President Trump arrives at the Washington Hilton, the site of the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which is attended by about 3,500 guests from over 100 countries, including lawmakers, Cabinet members, diplomats, and heads of state. Every U.S. president has headlined the event since its founding in 1953, along with a keynote speaker. According to Politico Playbook, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), who sustained near-fatal wounds in a shooting last year, will be the 2018 keynote speaker. He will be introduced by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA).

At7:45am, President Trump meets with President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala.

At8am, President Trump addresses the National Prayer Breakfast.

At9am, President Trump departs the Washington Hilton, returning to the White House at 9:05am.

At11:30am, President Trump meets with Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

At12:30pm, President Trump has lunch with Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin.

Finally, at1:45pm, President Trump meets with Dr. Henry Kissinger, who served as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Kissinger has sat down with Trump at least three times since the latter's election: once during the presidential transition, and again in May and October 2017.

Also today: at 1pm, Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah will headline the daily press briefing. According to Axios, Shah's briefing debut is due to a vacation by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders that has "long been in the works." Shah has taken on a higher-profile role representing the White House on TV recently, despite a New York Magazine report earlier this week publishing texts of his from 2016 criticizing then-candidate Trump.

Today in the Senate

With just hours before the government shuts down, the Senate is set to hold a cloture vote and then a vote on final passage of the House-passed CR, attached to the McConnell-Schumer budget caps deal.

Today in the House

The House must also approve the funding deal by midnight to avert a government shutdown.

The chamber is also scheduled to consider the Mortgage Choice Act, the Small Business Holding Company Relief Act, the Improving Rural Call Qualityand Reliability Act, and the Kari's Law Act.


In Tuesday's newsletter, I misstated the home state of Rep. Luke Messer and Greg Pence. Messer represents Indiana's 6th congressional district, but is running for the Senate this year; Pence has filed papers to seek Messer's open House seat, which was previously held by his brother, Vice President Mike Pence.