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Wake Up To Politics - January 30, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, January 30, 2018. 280 days until Election Day 2018. 1,008 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!

Trump to aim for unifying reset in State of the Union address

President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address tonight, planning to move away from his polarizing initial year in office and instead focus on bipartisan unity.

According to the Associated Press, White House aides are signaling Trump's hope to "set aside his more combative tone for one of compromise." Trump's address will be themed "Building a safe, strong and proud America," as Trump promotes his year-one accomplishments in the economy and national security. According to the Wall Street Journal, he "will credit tax overhaul legislation and deregulation efforts by the Trump administration for low unemployment, increased wages and stock market highs that he will say are 'lifting up all Americans.'"

Trump will also look ahead to the new year, focusing on issues on which he hopes to attract bipartisan support. "The tone will be one of bipartisanship and will be very forward-looking,” an Administration official told reporters. “It will be an attractive message.” The President will unveil his $1 trillion infrastructure package, a concept which has been praised byDemocrats, and discuss the legislative framework for immigration released by the White House last week. The proposal paves the way for a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million "Dreamers," who were brought to the U.S. illegally as minors, while also cutting legal immigration by limiting "chain migration," or the family reunification program, and ending the visa lottery program. The plan would also allot $25 billion for the construction of Trump's proposed border wall.

Can Trump leave his first, divisive year behind and pivot to a refined, unifying message? Perhaps tonight, but it is unlikely that his new style would last, as he has proven in two and a half years on the political stage. During his presidency, Trump has impressed political observers with a handful of scripted speeches delivered from a Teleprompter, including his address to Congress last March and his speech in Davos last week. Each time, he ends any positive news cycle by soon delivering an unscripted speech or launching combative tweets.

At Trump's speech last year, one of his best moments was while recognizing the widow of a slain Navy SEAL, who was sitting in the First Lady's box during the address. Tonight, Melania Trump will be joined by 15 guests who personify some part of Trump's agenda, including four parents of girls murdered by the MS-13 gang, an ICE agent, two heroes from recent natural disasters, a police officer who adopted a baby from parents suffering from opioid addiction, a retired Marine Corps corporal, a Coast Guard technician, an Army staff sergeant, and citizens who benefited from the GOP tax bill.

The President's address will be followed by a Democratic response offered by Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), a rising star in the party and a grandson of the late Bobby Kennedy.

Trump will speak from the U.S. House chamber at 9pm Eastern Time. The address will be aired on the major broadcast networks and cable networks, as well as live-streamed on C-SPAN, Twitter, and the White House's website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. Read Wake Up To Politics tomorrow for a full summary of the address...

House Republicans vote to release memo on Russia probe

Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee voted Monday evening to release a controversial memorandum said to accuse the Justice Department and the FBI of abusing their authority to surveil a Trump campaign aide as part of the Russia investigation. The move was opposed by President Trump's Justice Department, which warned that releasing the classified document would be "extraordinarily reckless," but supported by President Trump himself, as well as his allies online, who championed the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign. The vote to release the memo was along party lines, with each Democratic member of the panel voting in opposition.

According to a number of news outlets, the memo alleges that the FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by using the infamous "Steele dossier," which was partly funded by Democrats and has not been fully verified, to obtain a surveillance warrant for Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. The four-page document, drafted by chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and his staff, faults Trump-appointed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and outgoing Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, an Obama holdover, for their roles in overseeing the allegedly biased investigation.

Republican lawmakers who have viewed the memo promised explosive revelations about the Justice Department's probe. On Fox News, Sean Hannity promised that it would expose "the biggest political scandal in American history" and make "Watergate [look] like stealing a Snickers bar from a drugstore." But Democrats accused the GOP majority on the panel of undermining U.S. law enforcement institutions to move attention away from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which has already charged four former Trump associates and is reportedly probing the President himself in an obstruction of justice inquiry. Calling it a "sad day in the history of this committee," ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA) said the memo's release was a "deliberate attempt" to distract attention from the Mueller probe.

Schiff also said that the committee voted, again along party lines, to block the release of a Democratic counter-memo, which defends the procedures used to obtain the FISA warrant against Page, although the panel did vote unanimously to share the minority report with other House members, the same step taken with the GOP memo before the majority voted to release it publicly. In a press conference following the votes, flanked by each Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee, Schiff also told reporters that he was informed for the first time on Monday that the panel is investigating the Department of Justice and the FBI, which he called "a wholesale broadside against two of our respected institutions."

According to an arcane rule invoked by the Intelligence Committee for the first time in history on Monday, the memo now goes to President Trump, who has five days to either block the memo from being seen by the public or greenlighting its release. The memorandum has already been couriered to the White House, a spokesman has said, and will be reviewed in the days ahead; Trump can either fully block or fully release the memo, or release it with additional redactions. The White House has already signaled that the President, who has railed against the Russia investigation (which he refers to as a "witch hunt"), supports the memo's release.

According to a Bloomberg Politics report, Trump's "frustrations with the Russia investigation boiled over" during his Air Force One flight to Davos last week as he learned that the Justice Department was warning against the release of the Intelligence Committee memo. "For Trump, the letter [to the panel] was yet another example of the Justice Department undermining him and stymieing Republican efforts to expose what the president sees as the politically motivated agenda behind Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe," according to Bloomberg. White House Chief of Staff reportedly called Sessions to directly to complain, and the President personally reprimanded his Attorney General as well.

"Trump warned Sessions and others they need to excel at their jobs or go down as the worst in history," the report said.

Top FBI official suddenly resigns

Andrew McCabe abruptly stepped down as Deputy Director of the FBI on Monday, following months of attacks from President Trump and congressional Republicans. McCabe had been expected to depart the bureau when he became eligible to retire in March, but his sudden resignation came as a surprise. According to the New York Times, FBI Director Christopher Wray met recently with McCabe to discuss a forthcoming Inspector General report expected to criticize the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, and Wray "suggested moving [McCabe] into another job, which would have been a demotion." According to the report, he opted to leave instead, "telling friends he felt pressure from the head of the bureau to do so."

McCabe had worked at the FBI since 1996, a 22-year tenure. He was appointed by former FBI Director James Comey to become the agency's No. 2 official in January 2016 and served as Acting Director of the bureau after Comey was fired by President Trump last May. "Special Agent Andrew McCabe stood tall over the last 8months, when small people were trying to tear down an institution we all depend on," Comey tweeted on Monday. "He served with distinction for two decades. I wish Andy well. I also wish continued strength for the rest of the FBI. America needs you." In his own message to FBI staff, McCabe said he was departing the J. Edgar Hoover Building with "sadness," according to the Times. He also praised his colleagues as "the greatest workforce on earth because you speak up, you tell the truth and you do the right thing."

Since President Trump took office, McCabe has become a symbol of the FBI's alleged partisan bias against Trump, becoming the target of repeated public attacks by the President. In one of his five tweets about the official, Trump tweeted in December: "How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?" The President was referring to a failed 2015 state Senate campaign by McCabe's Democratic wife, in which she received donations from Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe, the then-governor of Virginia.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that Trump "vented his anger" at McCabe over the McAuliffe donations in a "get-to-know-you" meeting after McCabe became Acting Director; the report also said that Trump pointedly asked McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 election. McCabe responded that he didn't vote. On Monday, NBC News reported on a phone call between Trump and McCabe on the day after the President fired Comey. According to the report, "a furious" Trump was "demanding to know why Comey had been allowed to fly on an FBI plane from Los Angeles back to Washington after he was dismissed." McCabe reportedly responded that "he hadn’t been asked to authorize Comey’s flight, but if anyone had asked, he would have approved it," leaving Trump silent for a moment. Then, the President brought up the 2015 state Senate campaign, "suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser."

Per NBC, "McCabe replied, 'OK, sir.' Trump then hung up the phone." A White House official, declining to speak on the record, told NBC that the call "simply never happened."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at her Monday briefing that she was "not aware" of any discussions between the White House staff and FBI about McCabe. However, according to an Axios report last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pressured Wray to fire McCabe, triggering Wray to threaten his resignation.

Another House GOP chairman retires

Via Politico:

"New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, will not seek reelection, the 12-term congressman announced on Monday."

"Frelinghuysen is the eighth Republican committee chairman to forgo reelection in the House ahead of a midterm cycle that’s building against the GOP. But Frelinghuysen, whose district grew increasingly competitive in 2016, only served one full year as appropriations chairman and was not term-limited in his position, unlike other retiring lawmakers."

"Frelinghuysen, whose father served in Congress from 1952 to 1974, represents a northern New Jersey swath of suburbs that continues to drift away from Republicans. President Donald Trump won the district by 1 point in 2016, while Mitt Romney won it by 6 points in 2012. Last November, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy won the district."

..."Three Democrats outraised Frelinghuysen in the third quarter [of 2017], and each has already brought in more money than any challenger Frelinghuysen has faced in more than two decades. That fundraising edge will prove even more valuable in an open race in the expensive New York City media market."

The Rundown

  • "Putin list": The Trump Administration released a list of 210 prominent Russian business and political figures just before a deadline at midnight Monday, but declined to impose new sanctions against the Kremlin's allies. (CNN)
  • 20-week abortion ban: The Pain-Capable Unborn Children Protection Act, which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks, failed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate on Monday. The vote on the legislation was 51-46; 60 "yeas" were needed for the bill to advance. Three Democrats — Bob Casey (PA), Joe Donnelly (IN), and Joe Manchin (WV) — supported the bill, while two Republicans — Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) — voted against it. The House passed the bill in a 237-189 vote last October. In a statement, President Trump called the vote "disappointing." (Washington Post)
  • Koch summit: Charles and David Koch are hosting their conservative network's bi-annual donor summit in southern California, unveiling plans to spend up to $400 million in advertising during the 2018 midterm cycle. Recognizing the "challenging environment," the group is vying to defend the Republican majorities in Washington. (TIME)
  • 5G nationalization: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai announced on Monday that he would "oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network," one day after reporting that the Trump White House is "considering an unprecedented federal takeover of a portion of the nation’s mobile network to guard against China." Pai was appointed to lead the FCC by President Trump. (Axios)
  • Sexual abuse protections for athletes: The House voted 406-3 on Monday to pass a bill attempting to shield young athletes from sexual abuse in the wake of the scandal involving former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar. Republican Reps. Justin Amash (MI), Thomas Massie (KY), and Mark Sanford (SC) were the lone opposing votes. (Reuters)
  • DNC official: Democratic National Committee CEO Jess O'Connell is leaving her post atop the DNC next month, less than a year after joining chairman Tom Perez in attempting to turn the organization around after a troubled 2016 election cycle. (NBC News)

The President's Schedule

President Trump has just one event on his public schedule today: at 9:10pm Eastern Time, he will deliver the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol.

Today in the Senate: Circuit court confirmation

The Senate will vote today on confirmation of Minnesota Supreme Court justice David Ryan Stras to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eighth Circuit. Stras will be the 13th circuit court judge confirmed during the Trump Administration, a historic makeover of the federal judiciary. His nomination was advanced in a 57-41 vote on Monday, with seven Democrats voting in favor: Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Doug Jones (AL), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Joe Manchin (WV), Claire McCaskill (MO), and Mark Warner (VA).

Today in the House: DOD spending bill

The House is set to consider the Defense Department appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018 today. According to The Hill, "the vote is mostly symbolic, as the House has twice passed defense appropriations for the fiscal year," only to see them ignored by the Senate, while negotiations continue on the ratio of defense and non-defense funding. House Republican leaders promised another vote on the spending bill to the defense hawks in their caucus in exchange for their votes on the three-week continuing resolution. The measure would appropriate $659.2 billion in funding to the Defense Department, $584 billion for the "base" (peacetime) budget and $75.1 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, or "war funds."

The chamber will also vote on the Financial Institution Living Will Improvement Act, which would "reform the living will process under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act."