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Wake Up To Politics - January 14, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, January 14, 2019. 385 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 659 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

A weekend of Trump-Russia revalations

Two major reports on President Donald Trump's relationship with Russia published this weekend...

--- The New York Times reported this weekend that after President Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey last year, officials at the agency "became so concerned by the president's behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests." While it has long been known that the FBI opened a criminal probe into whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey, this was the first reporting about  a counterintelligence inquiry that began at the same time, which looked into "whether the president's own actions constituted a possible threat to national security" and "whether [the president] was knowingly working for Russia or what unwittingly fallen under Moscow's influence."

Both the criminal and counterintelligence aspects of the investigation became part of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe when he was appointed days later.

According to the Times, in closed-door testimony before Congress, former FBI general counsel James Baker explained how both aspects of the investigation were intertwined: "Not only would [firing Comey] be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security," he is reported to have said. "What if the Obstruction Was the Collusion?" Lawfare editor-in-chief Benjamin Wittes asked in a post this weekend.

--- In addition, the Washington Post reported on the "extraordinary lengths" President Trump has gone to in order to "conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials."

According to the Post, as a result of the president's active efforts to shield the details of his meetings with Putin even from his own advisers, "there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump's face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years."

Even if President Trump had not faced extensive questioning over his ties to Russia, former U.S. officials told the Post that his efforts to conceal details of his meetings with Putin were "at odds with the known practices of previous presidents, who have relied on senior aides to witness meetings and take comprehensive notes then shared with other officials and departments," especially if meeting with an adversarial foreign leader such as the president of Russia.

House Democrats promised to investigate Trump's attempts to limit documentation of his meetings with Putin. "Every time Trump meets with Putin, the country is told nothing," House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) said in a statement. "We will be holding hearings on the mysteries swirling around Trump's bizarre relationship with Putin."

--- Trump's response: In a phone interview with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro on Saturday night, Trump dismissed both reports. He called the Times report "the most insulting article I've ever had written," but notably did not give a direct yes-or-no answer when asked if he has "ever worked for Russia." In response to the Post report, he said: "I'm not keeping anything under wraps," insisting that he "couldn't care less" if the details of his meetings with President Putin were made public.

Meanwhile, the shutdown continues...

DAY 24: Government shutdown enters the history books

The partial government shutdown, now the longest federal funding gap in U.S. history, continues into its fourth week today.

President Trump has refused to back down from his request for $5 billion in border wall funding, while Democratic congressional leaders have not signaled any plans to budge in their insistence on "nothing for the wall." The president repeatedly taunted Democrats in tweets over the weekend, such as a Saturday message: "I am in the White House waiting for you!" He tweeted this morning: "I've been waiting all weekend. Democrats must get to work now. Border must be secured!"

But there have been no further negotiations since President Trump abruptly ended a White House meeting with congressional leaders last Wednesday by storming out.

A trio of polls released this weekend found the public mostly blaming the president for the ongoing shutdown. In a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 53% said Trump and congressional Republicans were mainly at fault for the shutdown, while 29% blamed congressional Democrats. In a CNN poll, 55% said that Trump is more responsible for the shutdown, while 32% said Democrats in Congress are. Finally, in a CBS News/You Gov poll, 47% said they blamed the president for the shutdown, and 30% said they blamed the Democrats.

In addition, all three polls found that a majority of Americans oppose the construction of a border wall. "President Donald Trump and Republicans are losing the messaging war on the government shutdown," Politico concluded. These numbers could add to the pressure on Senate Republicans to buck the president and hold a vote on House-passed legislation to reopen the government. Republican Sens. Cory Gardner (CO), Susan Collins (ME), and Lisa Murkowski (AK) have already called for such a vote to take place. One of Trump's top congressional allies, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), encouraged Trump to endorse a stopgap fix to the shutdown in a "Fox News Sunday" interview. "I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug," Graham said. "See if we can get a deal. If we can't at the end of three weeks, all bets are off. See if he can do it by himself through the emergency powers."

According to the New York Times, Trump has pulled back from his plans to declare a national emergency to pay for a border wall, heeding the advice of "congressional Republicans, his own lawyers and advisers, who say using it as a way out of the government shutdown does not justify the precedent it would set and the legal questions it could raise."

--- Big Picture: The shutdown is only the beginning of the battles to come in this new era of divided government... "Trump Confronts the Prospect of a 'Nonstop Political War' for Survival" (New York Times)

The Rundown

2020 Central: Two Democrats officially entered the 2020 presidential primary this weekend: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro. Gabbard made the announcement in a CNN interview; Castro launched his bid at a rally in San Antonio, Texas, where he formerly served as mayor.

"There are a lot of reasons for me to make this decision," Gabbard said in the interview. "There are a lot of challenges that are facing the American people that I'm concerned about and that I want to solve," she said, including health care, criminal justice reform, and climate change.

Meanwhile, Castro spoke at length about his personal narrative in his announcement speech. "When my grandmother got here almost a hundred years ago," he said, "I'm sure that she never could have imagined that just two generations later, one of her grandsons would be serving as a member of the United States Congress and the other would be standing with you here today to say these words: I am a candidate for president of the United States of America." Castro's brother Joaquin is a congressman from Texas and will be chairing his presidential campaign.

Judge blocks Trump birth control rules: Via NBC News... "A federal judge on Sunday temporarily blocked Trump administration rules allowing employers to refuse to provide free birth control from taking effect Monday in 13 states."

"The regulations, which the Trump administration announced in October 2017, widened the pool of employers that are allowed to claim exemption from providing contraceptive coverage to include nonprofit groups, for-profit companies, other nongovernmental employers, and schools and universities." The rules were set to take effect today, but will now be put on hold in the 13 states that sought an injunction from the judge.

Republicans consider action against Steve King: Republican congressional leaders are considering taking action against Rep. Steve King (R-IA) after the nine-term congressman questioned in a New York Times interview last week when terms such as "white nationalist" and "white supremacist" became "offensive."

"I'm having a serious conversation [on Monday] with Congressman Steve King on his future and role in this Republican Party," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said on CBS' "Face the Nation." McCarthy promised: "Action will be taken."

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White House schedule

POTUS: President Trump travels to New Orleans, Lousiana, where he addresses the American Farm Bureau Federation's 100th Annual Convention at 12:40 p.m.

After returning to Washington, D.C., he welcomes the 2018 College Football Playoff National Champion Clemson Tigers to the White House at 6:30 p.m.

VP: Vice President Mike Pence has no public events on his schedule today.

Congress schedule

Senate: 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, which would impose additional sanctions on Syria and seek to counter the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. At 5:30 p.m., the Senate will hold a procedural vote on the measure — the same vote that failed twice last week, with Democrats refusing to vote "yea" until the Senate votes on a bill to reopen the government. The legislation needs 60 "yea" votes to clear the procedural hurdle.

House: The House convenes at 12 p.m. The chamber is scheduled to vote on five pieces of legislation:

  1. H.R. 116 – Investing in Main Street Act
  2. H.R. 246 – Stimulating Innovation through Procurement Act
  3. H.R. 206 – Encouraging Small Business Innovators Act
  4. H.R. 190 – Expanding Contract Opportunities for Small Businesses Act
  5. H.R. 430 – TANF Extension Act

Supreme Court schedule

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Thacker v. Tennessee Valley Authority and Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc. According to a court spokesperson, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will not be in attendance during oral arguments again this week, while she continues to recover from cancer surgery last month.

*All times Eastern